Thousands rally against Prayut at Suan Rot Fai

Thousands rally against Prayut at Suan Rot Fai

Thousands of people gather at Suan Rot Fai on Sunday for a run against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. (Photo by Patpon Sabpaitoon)
Thousands of people gather at Suan Rot Fai on Sunday for a run against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. (Photo by Patpon Sabpaitoon)

Thousands of people joined a rally at a park on Sunday to protest against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his government, and call for more political freedom, less than a year after a disputed general election.

The demonstrators gathered on Sunday at Suan Rot Fai, or Vachirabenjatas Park, for an early-morning protest jog against the administration led by Gen Prayut. The former army chief seized power in a coup in 2014, headed a junta for five years and returned as premier after the March election.

“We want a true democratic government, not a dictatorship in disguise,” Tanawat Wongchai, a student activist and one of the organisers of the so-called “Run Against Dictatorship,” said ahead of the event.

Gen Prayut’s opponents question the fairness of last year’s poll under a military-backed constitution. The demonstration, the second notable anti-government rally in a month, evokes memories of Thailand’s history of sometimes destabilising political protests.

Such turbulence contributed to slower economic growth in Thailand compared with neighbours such as Indonesia and Vietnam, but the political tension for now remains lower than during those past episodes of unrest.

Police estimated at least 12,475 people had joined the fun-run style gathering. Organisers earlier said 10,000 had registered, adding parallel events would take place in other provinces. A rough tally at the site indicated thousands of people, many wearing T-shirts and bibs made for the event. 

‘Fed up’

“I’m here to show that we’re fed up,” said Paphatsara Netsang, a Thai who lives in Singapore but flew in for the rally. “Nothing changes. Everything is still the same. There’s no economic improvement.”

A separate rally was due on Sunday in Lumpini Park as a show of support for Gen Prayut. He’s downplayed the demonstrations against his ruling coalition as involving a comparatively small number of people.

Mr Tanawat, the student activist, said authorities must tackle the economic slowdown, amend the charter to give people more rights and end harassment of the opposition. Otherwise, more protests will be organized, he said.

Future Forward, the highest-profile opposition party, drew thousands to a demonstration on Dec 14 to protest against its looming dissolution in court cases. Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, already banned from parliament, also faces charges he’s rejected for calling that rally.

Gen Prayut received a boost on Saturday when the House of Representatives approved the annual budget after a months-long delay, providing a fillip for the struggling economy. The bill was viewed as a test of his ability to shepherd key legislation through a bitterly divided legislature.

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