Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 458, 18 November 2021

Thailand: Escalating protests, persisting economic crisis, proposed constitutional reforms
Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan

In the news
On 10 November, Thailand's Constitutional Court passed a judgment that stated, the speeches made on August 2020 by three activists had hidden intentions of toppling the monarchy. These reforms proposed, amounts to 'a judicial coup'.
 
On 14 November, protestors gathered in hundreds at the primary shopping district in Bangkok to criticize the ruling government. In the evening, the protestors began mobilizing towards the German embassy in Bangkok. The mobilization led to the police firing rubber bullets at the protestors to stop them from nearing the embassy. Three protestors were injured with one protestor sustaining significant wounds.
 
On 17 November, lawmakers in Thailand rejected the bill that was aimed at weakening the military's political role. The lower house of the Parliament and the Senate voted to reject the bill that called for a clear separation of powers and a change in the constitution that was passed in 2017.
 
Issues at large
First, protests for an accountable government. Mismanagement of the government in dealing with the economic crisis and the health crisis has resulted in an economic contraction of about 12.2 percent in the third quarter of Thailand's economy. This has affected the country's stocks, currency and has diminished work opportunities for the youth. Covid-19 restrictions have added to the woes of the country who used to generate a USD 60 billion revenue from tourism in 2019, which was about 18.21 per cent of its GDP with now it contributing to only about 6.78 per cent of its GDP in 2020.
 
Second, the shortcoming of the political system. The students have been pushing for reforms in the constitution and have struggled to form a system where everyone is equal. But, the Constitutional Court passed the judgment stating that this amounted to an attempt to overthrow Thailand's monarchy. This reaction of the judiciary further led to the protests on 14 November outside the German embassy.
 
Third, questioning the legitimacy of constitutional monarchy's and the military government. The recent protests have defied the court orders and proposed to reform the powers of the Thai Monarchy. While also questioning the political role of the military regime that has been in power since 2014. The protestors have been demanding a "No absolute monarchy" and a change in the 2017 constitution to strengthen democracy.
 
Fourth, international response. The protests last week mobilized international support from countries in North America and Europe that called out on Thailand to amend or review its 'Lese Majesty Law' in the United National Human Rights Council. Amnesty International is worried about the human rights situation in Thailand, while the US is concerned about the law, and its use to impact freedom of expression. Thailand's human rights record was being reviewed at the UNHCR in Geneva on 10 November. Thailand defended its 'Lese Majesty Law' by stating national security, culture and history of Thailand.
 
In perspective
First, the government could increase its intensity on crackdowns. This would lead to similar incidents that happened in the past, like in 1973, 1976, 1992, and 2010 that resulted in several casualties.
 
Secondly, with the increasing protests, looming economic crisis, and rising Covid-19 cases, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha will take steps to remain in power with his falling popularity.
 
Third, the Royalists and the Student groups will have growing contentions with the student groups now targeting the Monarch, which was said to be a taboo in the past.
 
Fourth, the protests could shimmer down if the economic situation in the country gets better with Thailand opening up to "Quarantine free tourism" and may bring revival to the economy and opportunities for the people of Thailand.
 

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