As Election Prospects Dim, Protest Movement Intensifies

A Prayuth-as-Pinocchio mask is worn by an attendee of a Saturday pro-democracy rally at Thammasat University.

BANGKOK — A month after renewed demonstrations were taken up against military rule, protesters said Saturday they have gained momentum in calling for elections this year.

Those among a crowd police estimated at 200 who gathered at Thammasat University to call for prompt elections by the end of the year said it’s up to the public to pile pressure onto the junta.

“The fire is burning and growing in the hearts of protesters,” said Parit Chiwarak, a 19-year-old political science freshman.

‘Waiting for election,’ reads a ballot box
cardboard figure Saturday at Thammasat University.

Parit, who spoke from the protest stage just after 5pm, argued that Thailand is not stagnating as a result of the coup and in regression when it comes to politics and democracy.

“Every time there’s a protest, more people are joining. I think it won’t be long before change comes. If you only wait for the [junta] to act, there won’t be elections for the next 10 years.”

Prayuth has consistently said he will return power to the people but has broken promises to do so each year since the 2014 coup.

Thararat Panya, 22, a fourth-year law student, said the renewed momentum was due to the fact that the junta has overstayed its welcome and the economy is ailing.

She added that seeing non-Redshirts join they protests and criticize the junta on social media is crucial, as it means the anti-junta alliance is broadening beyond the usual groups.

Karakot Sangyenpan, a member of the Democracy Restoration Group, organizer of the outdoor event at Thammasat, said the fire of the anti-junta movement has been reignited nearly four years on from the coup. He pointed out to sporadic calls for protests outside Bangkok in Chiang Mai, Phayao, Pattani and Nakhon Pathom provinces in recent weeks as evidence. Korakot said people have become increasingly fed up by the repeat delays.

“They have been using the same tactic for the past four years,” Korakot said.

Police at Saturday’s event at Thammasat University in Bangkok.

As for diversity in the opposition, Korakot said different political groups may have different reasons for opposing the junta, but they all know now “the junta is the enemy of the people.”

In a sign of growing confidence and boldness despite charges lodged against key protesters over the past month, protest organizers on Saturday refused to allow police to check the IDs of people joining the demonstration.

Korakot said he and others do not want any protesters to be harassed as police may take down details of demonstrators’ identities.

After repeated negotiations, police relented and merely checked for weapons.

The renewed protest saw some leaders stepping into a new role. Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa is playing a prominent role as a protest leader over the past month after charges of sedition and violation of the junta’s ban on political gathering of more than four people have been lodged against him.

Arnon said that beside the repeated delay of elections and the souring economic situation, some have become disillusioned by serial scandals, such as unsatisfactory explanations give for dozens of undeclared luxury watches found in the possession of deputy junta leader Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan.

“This make people feel that they can’t put up with it any longer,” he said.