Opinion: Time for Tawan and Bam to End Their Political Hunger Strike

Protesters raises a three-finger salute during a rally supporting lese majeste detainees Tawan and Bam, who are on hunger strike, at Pathum Wan Intersection on Jan. 26, 2023.
Protesters raises a three-finger salute during a rally supporting lese majeste detainees Tawan and Bam, who are on hunger strike, at Pathum Wan Intersection on Jan. 26, 2023.

It has been over ten days now since monarchy-reform activists Tawan and Bam have unilaterally revoked their lese majeste bail and began their hunger strike in prison. They are now at Thammasat Hospital. The two young activists issued three lofty demands: justice system reform, release of all political prisoners, and for all political parties to call for the abolition of both the lese majeste and sedition laws.

Ten days have passed and none of their demands have been met. Yet as of press time, they insist on continuing their hunger strike, adamant that, if need be, they are willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause they believe in.

A major rally was called by monarchy-reform co-leader Arnon Nampa on Thursday despite him being constrained by the bail condition, which means he is risking himself being detained once again. Despite that, no more than a few hundred demonstrators gathered. It was a far cry from the height of monarchy-reform street protests two years ago when tens of thousands, mostly young protesters, filled up the streets of Bangkok and beyond.

On Friday, both opposition parties, Pheu Thai and Move Forward, issued a joint statement calling for the first two demands to be met. Interestingly enough, or shamefully enough, none of the two parties address the issue of the third demand. As of press time, Move Forward Party’s stance is to call for the reform of the lese majeste law, while Pheu Thai has no plan to even push for a reform of the law, not to mention sedition law.


The two opposition parties were not willing to shift their stance to make it more progressive, or radical – perhaps out of fear of alienating their more conservative base. Activists ambushed Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat on Saturday at a party event, but there was no sign that any accommodation will be made.

All political parties are now in the election campaign mode with the general elections expected by May if not sooner, so they are not willing to support street protests to the point where the election cannot be held or risk another military intervention. Over the past two years, not a few key monarchy-reform activists have also been poached to join the opposition parties. They are now running as MP candidates and are no longer able to lead street protests.

As for some activists and supporters of Tawan and Bam, they say they “respect” the two girls’ decision and support them. Some are even irritated by calls by others on the same camp who expressed concerns and told them to shut up.

It is easier said than done for those who simply say they will not try to stop or convince the two otherwise, after all it is not they themselves who are on hunger strike, risking their health if not their lives. They are more than willing to use the two girls as a stepping stone, if not a pawn, to further their ideological cause to ignite outrage if the two become incapacitated or die. If these people are not willing to be on a hunger strike themselves they should seriously reconsider their selfish piggybacking stance.


Time is of the essence and people who have good ties with the two and their respect should immediately meet them at the hospital to try to convince them that their demands will most unlikely be met in the foreseeable future and they should end the hunger strike and carry on a fight in a more protracted manner.

It may take many years, no, decades more, but we cannot expect Thai society to produce an immediate consensus particularly on the status of the lese majeste law by having someone threaten to sacrifice their live, if all political parties do not support the abolition of the law. We need more talks to convince the unconvinced and it cannot be achieved through a hunger strike. This is where Tawan and Bam, no matter how well intended, got it wrong.

The lese majeste law, despite its draconian 15 years maximum imprisonment term, could not make some Thais love and respect the monarchy. The same can be said about Tawan and Bam’s hunger strike to death’s ultimatum – it cannot make ultra-royalists and royalist parties call for the abolition of the lese majeste law.