Opinion: Is the First Chapter of the Monarchy-Reform Struggle Ending?

Pro-democracy protesters raise a three-finger salute during a rally at Sanam Luang on Sept. 20, 2020. Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP
Pro-democracy protesters raise a three-finger salute during a rally at Sanam Luang on Sept. 20, 2020. Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP

When I wrote last Saturday on why the numbers of monarchy-reform demonstrators are dropping, some read with sadness.

Do not despair. The year-old movement was definitely not a total failure. If anything, a new generation of Thais, mostly in their late teens or early twenties are now politically awakened and there is no returning from that. It doesn’t matter how many more are to be kept under pre-trial detention since it won’t change the mindset of these young Thais who are now critical of not just the government, and the ruling class, but the monarchy institution.

This, coupled with unprecedented critical discussion about the monarchy online and even on the streets where demonstrators occupy a few hours at a time, are the real achievements of the monarchy-reform movement.

Perhaps the fight will drag on much longer and it looks that way. Young demonstrators will have to accept that sometimes political change is much more like a marathon or a relay-run than a 112-meter sprint.

Time is on their side and even if some of the young leaders now incarcerated spend 10 years in lese-majeste prison, many will still be in their early thirties when they are out.

To have realistic expectations is key. It requires endurance, fortitude and not giving up hope for a more equal and freer Thailand. Those now disappointed by the low turnout, with some protests attracting fewer than 100 demonstrators, should understand that the fight will likely drag on for much longer.

In order to succeed, they have to win the political and ideological bystanders and not alienate anyone who may not possess equally radical agendas. Those older and from different generations should not be passive and expect the young to shoulder all the burden alone, however.

The protesters’ slogan: “let it end in our generation” may be uplifting. But when taken into consideration, the fewer and fewer protesters on the streets, is not reassuring and even downright disappointing.

Do not let hopelessness settle in. Let’s continue to hope for a more equal and democratic Thailand.

Hope for the best – but prepare for the worst.

Perhaps after a year, Thailand is now entering a new chapter of the struggle. It will require the demonstrators to be more open-minded, and take stock of their weaknesses and failures over the past year. Learn from the past, from others whom you may disagree, and from abroad. Where the next chapter will lead Thailand is not certain. No one possesses a crystal ball. Things are too complex to predict with reliable certainty.

As many young people continue to fight for a better society, they must be reminded that they ought to be fighting for a better and more equal society, not a society where those who disagree with them are viewed as enemies to be dehumanized. That path of discrimination and hatred, often taken by those on the side of the dictatorial powers-that-be unfailingly leads to a worse place.

Fight with love, love for justice, equality, freedom, peace and democracy. Do not fight with hatred which ultimately corrupts you to degrade others to be less than human.

Chapter 1 of the struggle seems to have passed. Now we are heading toward a new chapter. How long will it take? How many more chapters? Is this an interregnum, a period of stalemate?

Just be prepared for the unexpected – and do not lose hope.