BANGKOK: Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters massed close to Thailand’s Grand Palace on Saturday, in a huge rally calling for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha to step down and demanding reforms to the monarchy.
The kingdom has seen near-daily gatherings of youth-led groups since mid-July calling for the resignation of Prayut, the former army chief behind the 2014 coup, and a complete overhaul of his administration.
Some are also demanding reforms to Thailand’s ultra-wealthy and powerful monarchy — a once-taboo topic in the country due to its tough royal defamation laws.
The burgeoning movement, partly inspired by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, remains largely leaderless.
But this weekend’s demonstration was organised by students of Bangkok’s Thammasat University — a group that has been among the most vocal about the royal family’s role in Thailand.
Among the crowd at the historic Sanam Luang field in front of the Grand Palace, history teacher Patipat, 29, said the government wouldn’t be able to ignore the demonstrators. “Today is one of the turning points in Thai history,” he said.
By nightfall more than 18,000 protesters had gathered around the university’s downtown campus and the surrounding area, according to Bangkok’s Metropolitan Police Bureau, though protest organisers claim a much higher turnout.
Reporters on the ground estimated a crowd size closer to 30,000. This would make it one of the largest gatherings the kingdom has seen since the 2014 coup.
Streaming into the Sanam Luang field, LGBT activists unfurled rainbow flags as protesters marched in, giving the three-fingered salute from the Hunger Games trilogy that has been widely adopted by pro-democracy demonstrators.
They huddled under a sea of umbrellas to shield from rain, their glowing smartphones bobbing in the darkness above the 12-hectare grassy field.
“We are calling for Prayut Chan-O-Cha... to resign immediately,” prominent activist and protest organiser Parit Chiwarak, also known as “Penguin” said.
Student leaders also reiterated their demands for reforming the monarchy “to adapt it to society”.
“We will not stop until we have monarchy reform,” said fellow activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul.
Around 10,000 uniformed and plainclothes police patrolled the area as the crowd grew through the day.
Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2020