Arnon: Street Protests Deferred To Mid Year Due to COVID-19

Riot police uses tear gas and water cannon on pro-democracy protesters in front of the Parliament on Nov. 17, 2020.

BANGKOK — Large protests seeking the government’s ousting and monarchy reforms will likely be put on hold until the middle of 2021 due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, pro-democracy movement leader Arnon Nampa said Tuesday.

Arnon’s statement drew mixed responses from his supporters after he posted it on his Facebook, though the activist maintained that it was his personal view. He suggested that certain political activities will continue without having to mobilize people onto the streets.

“We are caught by COVID-19,” Arnon, a lawyer by trade, said in an interview. “So we will carry out other activities without rally first.”

Asked if he is concerned that the movement may lose its relevance, Arnon said no.

“It’s not going to peter out. It has become an issue already,” he said of the movement, which demands PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation, a more democratic charter, and reforms of the monarchy.

Arnon is one of the activists behind street protests that rocked Bangkok in the latter half of 2020. Many rallies drew at least 10,000 participants, many of them students and young people.

His fellow activist Ekachai Hongkanwan said he was surprised by the announcement, and expressed his worries that suspending the protests could risk losing the momentum.

“It’s strange. He probably thought it’s due to COVID-19 but I kind of disagree,” said Ekachai, who believes protests should be called whenever there are serious issues.

Ekachai also said many large protests held last year did not lead to any known infections.

“I will continue to carry out a one-man protest when an issue arises. I don’t care whether there’s COVID-19 or not,” he said.

Somyot Prueksakasemsum, another protest leader, said Arnon was merely giving an estimate of when a large protest can take place again, and the timing is not set in stone.

“I think once COVID-19 subsides, we should be able to protest right away,” Somyot said on the phone Tuesday.

Citing the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, the government on Thursday banned all public assemblies that may “lead to congestion that pose a risk of spreading the disease.” Violators face up to two years in prison and a fine of 40,000 baht.