Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 433, 8 September 2021

Thailand: Protests return for the fourth time in the last nine months
Vibha Venugopal

In the news
On 2 September, thousands of protesters gathered at the capital of Thailand at the Asoke intersection in Central Bangkok, calling out for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha. Despite the warnings given by the police that protests were banned due to the coronavirus restrictions, the demonstration was one of the biggest such gatherings in the year. During recent protests, security officers used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets against demonstrators who have thrown stones and firecrackers.
 
On 4 September, the prime minister and his five cabinet members won the no-confidence vote. This is the government's third censure motion, and it comes as pro-democracy demonstrators have been preparing for further rallies.
 
Lawmakers accused his government of mishandling the pandemic. They chastised him for the devastating economic impact, blaming the government's slow vaccine rollout on a lack of advance vaccine orders and deciding not to join the international COVAX vaccine-supply scheme.
 
Issues at large
First, return of protests. Since the beginning of 2020, Thailand has seen a series of protests targeting Prayuth's regime. The collapse of the Future Forward Party in February 2020, a party that frequently attacked Prayuth, sparked earlier protests. Later, the protests grew to include demands for Thai monarchy reforms. However, when the pandemic struck, the protests came to a standstill for a short time before resuming in July of last year. The impact of COVID-19 and the implementation of the Emergency Decree put the country under lockdown, sparked the protests this time.
 
Second, different trigger points. The underlying reason for the protests remaining the same showcased different trigger points in terms of demonstrators calling for the prime minister to resign as a result of his bad handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as a partial reallocation of Thailand's monarchy and military budget to deal with the problem; emphasizing the inequity ingrained in Thailand's political system, pushing for a total overhaul of the country's administration, constitution, and monarchy. As both sides reject compromise and the ruling party clings to power, tensions rise, swiftly protests erupt.
 
Third, the four different waves experienced. From February 2020 until now, the protests only seemed to intensify and become a sign of widespread anger and desperation. The first wave demonstrated protests that were only restricted to individual institutions; the second wave emphasizing three major demands being put forth, namely: dissolution of the house, ending intimidation of the people and drafting a new constitution alongside anti-royal protests; the third wave bringing the country hit by the second wave of the pandemic along with the Coup d’état in Myanmar into shackles; the fourth wave which continues observing the pandemic worsening and increased violent protests against the Prime Minister.
 
Fourth, state responses. The junta inadvertently helped develop a new politically aware cohort free of the baggage of previous political parties by remaining in power for so long and preventing overt politicking. The government uses force and intimidation, arbitrary detention, arrests and changes, along with the Prime Minister criticizing the protests for worsening the country's economic situation.
 
In perspective
First, since late June, protests against Prayuth have gathered traction, as groups that demanded his ouster last year have resurfaced with newfound support from citizens enraged by the growing coronavirus crisis. Second, the demonstrators hold Prayuth responsible for the pandemic's handling, specifically his failure to procure a timely and appropriate vaccine supply. Only 13% of Thailand's population of over 66 million people have received all of their vaccinations, the continuation of turmoil and chaotic protests seem to continue with a sense of newfound objectives.

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