Activists Use New Year Wishes to Lash Out at Junta

In a photo which accompanied his Monday Facebook post, Activist Piyarat Chongthep points at a sign reading "Down with dictatorship. Long live democracy."

BANGKOK — While it’s common to wish others good health and a happy and prosperous New Year, some Thais have taken to wish for a return to democracy in 2018.

Faced with the junta’s ban on political gatherings of five or more people for three and a half years, some have turned Facebook into their tool for political resistance.

A number of pro-democracy Facebook users took the occasion of the New Year to wish Thailand a return to democracy – or at least the celebration of general elections in 2018. A few criticized the military junta, which has been in power since the 2014 coup.

“I don’t ask for much this year, just the hope that there will be democracy should suffice,” wrote prominent pro-democracy activist Rangsiman Rome, a former key member of New Democracy Movement and co-founder of Democracy Restoration Group on his Facebook page Monday, shortly after midnight.

Piyarat Chongthep, a pro-democracy activist who deliberately tore down the referendum bill of the junta-sponsored constitution in August 2016 took a further step by posting a picture of himself pointing at a sign which read, “Down with dictatorship. Long live democracy.”

Piyarat wrote in the same Facebook post on New Year’s Day that Thailand has endured lost economic opportunities over the past three and a half years under military rule. He added that the day that the opportunity for development returns is the day the dictatorial system will be defeated.

Another angry well-wisher was Facebook user Amarat Chokepamitkul, who on Sunday said “[I] curse the tyrants into another year.”

“Happy New Year comrades, the mission continues. The struggle still not over,” wrote Facebook user Jaruwat Keyuvan in a reminder to his friends right after midnight.

Exiled former university lecturer Giles Ji Ungpakorn also posted on Facebook saying the longer the junta remains in power, the greater their decay.

“Activists today must review the thought that the struggle for democracy can be achieved by five or six people who ‘are willing to sacrifice’ or the thought placing hopes on mainstream political parties,” wrote Giles.

“The year 2018 is the year that the Thai people will declare independence. [Junta], take back your happiness and return democracy. Your time is up,” wrote in a Facebook post Buddhist scholar Surapot Thaweesak, who was detained without charge for attitude adjustment in the immediate aftermath of the May 2014 coup.

The message made a reference to the junta’s slogan, of “returning happiness to the people”.

Pessimistic about any New Year greetings was Resistant Citizen member Pansak Srithep, who offered a brief caveat. “Only fools wish a Happy New Year when the damn dictator is still in power.”