Students rally for democracy

Students rally for democracy

Protesters raise their smartphones in the symbolic gesture of shining a light on Democracy Monument in Bangkok on Saturday evening. (Photo courtesy of jo @Ponlapatz)
Protesters raise their smartphones in the symbolic gesture of shining a light on Democracy Monument in Bangkok on Saturday evening. (Photo courtesy of jo @Ponlapatz)

Around a thousand people led by a group called Free Youth gathered on Saturday near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok to call for democracy.

The rally was the first major political demonstration since the end of most Covid-19 restrictions. And while the emergency decree still bans public gatherings, government officials have said they would not apply it to political events if they remained peaceful.

The event went ahead largely without incident. At one point demonstrators began to push back a metal barrier that had been set up to keep the crowd from spilling into the road nearby, and the police eventually backed off.

“No one hates the nation here,” one protest leader said, as he led the crowd in singing the national anthem at 6pm.

The rally was staged to press three demands: dissolution of the House, a rewrite of the constitution and an end to official and harassment of those critical of the government.

Before the event, organisers took to Twitter to remind those who planned on attending to wear masks and carry saline water in case tear gas was used.

A number of men believed to be plainclothes officials took video and pictures of the gathering.

Demonstrators try to push barriers that police had set up to prevent them from spilling onto the street. The police finally gave up. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

At 5pm, musicians from Rap Against Dictatorship performed a new song and sang their anti-establishment anthem Prathet Ku Mee with the demonstrators joining in. 

Among the speakers at the rally was Free Youth secretary-general Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapaikitseree, one of the two activists who had held up signs slamming the government for its mishandling of the quarantine of an Egyptian military delegation in Rayong province last week.

Other speakers were Mike Panupong, chairman of a group called Eastern Youth for Democracy, Juthathip Sirikan, chairwoman of the Student Unions of Thailand, and Non Nattachon from Eastern Youth.

Mr Tattep took the stage at around 5.20pm, and took aim at the government’s mishandling of the Covid-19 situation.

“Some 500,000 of us are about to lose our jobs. How can we go on from here? The outbreak has almost been contained but the government dropped its guard and allowed infected VIP guests to enter,” he said.

He also said he thought the 2019 election would bring more freedom but people continue to be harassed.

“We want the government to do two things,” he said. “Stop harassing people and dissolve the House because the government is utterly ineffective.

“Besides, we’ve inherited a sinful legacy in the form of the 2017 constitution that prolongs the ruling power. So the third thing we need to do is to make a new one that truly belongs to the people.”

Parit Cheewarak, a co-leader of the Student Unions of Thailand, told the crowd the gathering was a warning for the government.

“The emergency decree has been used to control people,” he said.

Ms Juthathip then asked the demonstrators to shine their mobile-phone flashlights on the monument and the sculpture of the constitution “to show how dark it has become”.

After that, the protesters chanted: “Prayut out”. The organisers pledged to stay overnight at the monument because “we’re so afraid it will disappear from this country”. 

The resentment of young people has grown in recent months as they see the current elected government is not very different from the military junta that preceded it.

They have been highly critical lately of the unwillingness of the government to follow up on the disappearance of a self-exiled anti-government activist in Phnom Penh, and the commission to a psychiatric ward last week of a man who wore a T-shirt that said “I have lost faith in the monarchy”.

Tattep and Juthathip read a joint statement announcing the end of the rally at about midnight.

They cited safety concerns and the lack of facilities and public utilities to accommodate the large number of people who joined the rally as a reason for calling off the demonstration.

Vocabulary

  • barrier: a bar or gate that stops people, animals or vehicles from entering a place - สิ่งกีดขวางทางผ่าน
  • constitution: the set of laws and basic principles that a country in governed by - รัฐธรรมนูญ
  • critical (adj): saying that someone or something is bad or wrong - จับผิด
  • delegation: a group of people chosen or elected by a group to represent them - คณะผู้แทน, คณะบุคคลที่เป็นตัวแทนของคนกลุ่มใหญ่
  • demonstration: an occasion when a group of people gather together to support or protest about something - การชุมนุม
  • dissolution of the lower house: formally end the House of Representatives, usually leading to a general election - การยุบสภา
  • emergency decree (noun): a situation where the government takes on special powers in a dangerous situation and the rights of the people are often limited in some way - ประกาศภาวะฉุกเฉิน  
  • establishment (noun): the most powerful people in a society who are often conservative and work hard to protect their position in society - กลุ่มที่มีอำนาจและอิทธิพล, กลุ่มอนุรักษ์นิยม
  • faith: trust in somebody's ability or knowledge; trust that somebody/something will do what has been promised - ศรัทธา
  • harass: to keep attacking or annoying someone - รบกวน, ทำให้ลำบากใจ
  • harassment: annoying or worrying somebody by putting pressure on them or saying or doing unpleasant things to them - การข่มขู่, การรบกวน, การก่อกวน
  • incident: something that happens, usually something bad - เหตุการณ์
  • ineffective: not working correctly or not doing what you want it to do - ซึ่งใช้การไม่ได้, ซึ่งไม่ได้ผล
  • legacy: something that someone has achieved that continues to exists after they stop working or die - สิ่งที่สืบทอด
  • mishandling: dealing with a situation or process badly or without enough care - การจัดการอย่างไม่ถูก
  • nation: a country considered as a group of people with the same language, culture and history, who live in a particular area under one government; all the people in a country - ประเทศ, คนในประเทศ
  • national anthem: the official national song of a country - เพลงชาติ
  • plainclothes (adj): ordinary clothes, esp. of police officers who wear regular clothes instead of police uniforms - นอกเครื่องแบบ
  • resentment: a feeling of anger because you have been forced to accept someone or something that you do not like - ความไม่พอใจ
  • saline: containing salt - น้ำเกลือ
  • sinful: against the rules of a religion or morally wrong - ชั่วร้าย, ร้าย, มีบาป
  • slammed: strongly criticised - วิพากษ์วิจารณ์อย่างรุนแรง
  • tear gas: a gas used by some police and armed forces to control crowds of people. It hurts the eyes and makes them produce tears - ก๊าซน้ำตา
  • unwilling: not wanting to do something and refusing to do it - ไม่เต็มใจ, ไม่สมัครใจ

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