August 24 has portents of becoming judgement day as leaders of many youth movements are planning major protests if Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha holds on to power he seized eight years ago.
Speaking at a seminar at Thammasat University’s Pridi Banomyong International College on August 15, the student activists said that many groups are holding their breath to see how the establishment elite would decide Prayut’s political future.
The 2017 Constitution says the prime minister shall not hold office for more than eight years, whether as consecutive terms or separately. Legal experts have not been able to reach a consensus on whether his premiership should be counted from August 24, 2014 when he took office for the first time after leading a coup, or from the time the current charter came into force in April 2017.
Opposition parties have sought the Constitutional Court’s ruling on Prayut’s premiership. Rumors and speculations of Prayut’s resignation and dissolution of the House of Representatives are doing the rounds.
Pattanit Ketramrit, vice president of the Thammasat University Student Union, said the events of August 24 would determine the situation, and perhaps the future of the country. “We have now observed something build up in social media,” he said. “People are keeping their hopes alive for change.”
Election the best solution
Students at the panel demanded that Prayut step down and call a snap election to move the country forward.
“An election is the best solution to ease peacefully mounting social tensions,” said Parit Chiwarak, a Thammasat University student. “But the powers that be seem to be employing all kinds of legal tactics to delay the election and thus creating more frustrations and grievances among people who want to see some changes in the politics.”
Parit, together with many others of his generation, had kicked off youthful demonstrations under the name People’s Party 2563 (2020) two years ago, demanding that Prayut step down, the constitution be amended to make it more democratic, and the royal institution be reformed to have a real constitutional monarchy. The People’s Party takes the same name as a group of young military officers and civilian officials who ended absolute monarchy in 1932.
The young generation shocked the nation when they first called for radical changes in the hierarchical Thai society and reforms to the monarchy. A large number of youthful movements with different names, such as Ratsadance, Free Feminist, Talugas, Taluwang, and Bad Student have emerged since then. Their momentum was seen as declining over the past years due to restrictions and suppression imposed by the authorities as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. A gathering on August 10 at Thammasat University, Rangsit campus, to commemorate the second anniversary did not receive much attention.
Meanwhile, the government has done all in its power to undermine the youthful movements. The number of political prisoners in Thailand has risen sharply to more than 2,000 over the past few years.
“Access to a video clip on YouTube of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, uploaded since 2020 when they jump-started their call for reform of the monarchy, has been blocked in Thailand as the government wants to delete public memory,” said Parit, who has been prosecuted on more than 40 charges.
Regular street protests that one saw in the recent past may not be taking place, but since the problem remains the people would look for new solutions in many ways, he said. “The struggle has its own life circle, and we have to adjust in accordance with the situation,” said Parit, who began his activism in high school eight years ago.
Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon, an engineering student of Mahanakorn University of Technology, said she had been prosecuted on some 10 charges and has been under surveillance of the authorities all the time. But she would never give up the efforts to move Thailand forward to a democracy. “We want to set a new standard for our society, to have democracy in essence and to see that power really belongs to the people,” she told the seminar.
Kanokrat Lertchoosakul, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, explained that the current youthful movement articulated the vision of the 1932 Revolution, calling themselves People’s Party, since they see the revolution 90 years ago as an “unfinished political mission”.
“The 1932 Revolution changed the system from absolute to constitutional monarchy, but for the young generation that is not enough,” said the scholar who studies social movements.
Patsaravalee agreed with Kanokrat that many of the six principles laid out by the 1932 People’s Party had not been implemented, such as economic well-being, equality, freedom, and education. The young People’s Party, therefore, also called for social welfare and education reform, she said.
Kanokrat explained that two generations of People’s Parties shared a lot of similarities. They are young, talented, and well-educated people who wanted to restructure the entire system, she said. While the young generation might refer to history and have popularized the 1932 Revolution, they have reinterpreted and redefined the past to fit the present and project the future. They can include various issues, such as identity, gender equality, LGBT and environment into the 1932 Revolution trajectory, she added.
Anna Annanon, a member of the Bad Students group, said the activities of junior students in secondary and high schools had never declined since being awakened by the wave of youthful protests ignited by their colleagues in universities a couple of years ago.
They organized activities concerning education and problems in schools almost every day, said 12th grade student Annan, who has led many protests at the Education Ministry and Government House with various demands, such as freedom of hairstyle and the right not to wear uniform.
“Students of grade 7 and 8 in secondary schools went even further than their education and domestic issues in the school to talk about structural reform of the royal institution,” she told the seminar.
Nitchakarn Rakwongrit of FemFoo group said the younger generation has realized that they cannot be happy if they live in a bad social environment. Thammasat University fresher Nitchakarn has joined the campaigns for gender issues since her high school, as she wanted Thai society to be aware of gender identity and equality.
It is the new normal these days to see various groups of people come together to voice concern about social problems, she said, and added that people have a lot of ways, not limited only to street protest, to express their opinions. “Sometimes, we might be busy with other things but could join any campaigns via social media simply through #hashtag on Twitter,” she said.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk
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