BANGKOK — Families of those killed and injured this day 42 years ago in a popular uprising to topple a military junta mourned their losses at a ceremony today and renewed their calls for compensation from authorities.
The wife of the late activist Chira Boonmak, believed to be the first student killed that day, was among dozens present today for a religious service marking the anniversary, lamented Thailand’s current state of affairs and questioned the ambition for which her husband paid his life.
“Their ideal is the wish to be freedom from tyranny. We have had numerous coups because politicians wouldn’t reconcile with each other,” Lamiad Boonmak, who heads the Relatives of October 14, 1973, Martyrs Association said today. “Whoever heads the government, there’s a protest. It keeps going in this cycle. A full democracy can’t be achieved. So why are we still commemorating it? Why are we still holding this event?”
Lamiad said she has petitioned the current military government 10 times about a compensation fund approved prior the the 2014 coup but has yet to receive a meaningful reply.
Activists hold a banner today near the October 14 Memorial on Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Bangkok.
The former government led by Yingluck Shinawatra approved a plan in March 2012 to pay out 7,000 baht per month to immediate heirs of those injured or maimed, but the legislation was never enacted. The Yingluck administration was later ousted in the May 2014 coup d’etat, which brought the current junta to power.
“The coup happened, and it stripped our right to compensation,” 70-year-old Lamiad said at the ceremony held at the October 14 Memorial on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. “It was already approved in the Yingluck cabinet. We have been waiting.”
She addressed a complaint to Panadda Diskul, a minister in the prime minister’s office, who was present at the event.
“Last year, we told Mr. Panadda about it, and Mr. Panadda promised there would be action. But to this moment, we have not received any payment,” she said. “We are old, and some of us are disabled. We can’t do anything. We only want to exercise this right. We want only the 7,000 baht. But they won’t give it to us.”
Panadda tried to placate Lamiad by telling reporters that he would urge the government to speed up the compensation process.
“This issue is something that all the relevant agencies must discuss together and try to find a conclusion,” Panadda said. “The working committee has to do actual work. They have to talk about the real issues, what the obstacles are, and how the state can lend a hand.”
Lamiad’s husband, Chira, was a 29-year-old graduate student when more than 200,000 demonstrators occupied Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Bangkok on Oct. 13, 1973, to demand a new constitution and an end to the military’s decade-long rule.
On the next day, clashes broke out. The military attempted to disperse the protesters, using live rounds. After riots spread through parts of Bangkok, His Majesty the King intervened and removed junta chairman Thanom Kittikachorn from his premiership. Thanom and two of his deputies fled the country in the afternoon of Oct. 15, ending years of military dictatorship in Thailand.
Chira is believed to have been the first demonstrator to shot and killed on Oct. 14, the day now remembered by many Thais as a major milestone for democracy in the kingdom, and its anniversary is publicly commemorated every year.
But at today’s memorial service, Lamiad bitterly questioned whether there remains any point in marking the uprising when its ideal – “freedom from tyranny” – was far from being achieved.
“Everyone is only fending for their own interests,” she said. “That’s very different from Chira Boonmak, who dared to make the decision to leave his house on that day to call for rights and freedom for the people.”
Lamiad also quipped at government officials attending the ceremony, asking them, “You are here to commemorate the event, but are you not ashamed? Many of you are the October Generation now sitting in the government. You are sitting on the pool of blood, but you don’t care about us. I have had enough.”
Minister Pannada acknowledged the historical importance of the date.
“[14 Oct.] was the beginning of calls for democracy in Thailand. I think it’s impossible for the state to ignore it.”
Members of the Dao Din group, which has protested against the junta and the 2014 May military coup, were also present at the ceremony. Activists unfurled a banner denouncing former leaders of the 1973 uprising who have now shifted to supporting the military’s rule in Thailand.
A company of police officers was placed around the ceremony to maintain order at the Oct. 14 monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue.
Although protests and political activities remain banned by the military junta, police did not interfere with the gathering today.