Thailand’s Silenced Protests

Image Courtesy of Unsplashed.

Julia Neves, Queens University.


Protests—the public’s expression of disapproval towards an idea or a collective in an effort to be heard and in pursuit of change. Whether it was for women’s rights or slavery abolition; protests have been occurring for centuries and have presented themselves in many forms. It continues to take place around the world, such as in the United States with the protests against police brutality and in Belarus against their President Alexander Lukashenko. Thailand is another country that has had a large wave of protests this year beginning in February and has continued to occur. The Thai citizens are demanding reform and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Despite months of protest,  media coverage remains limited due to censorship from the government. To grasp the entirety of the current political climate in Thailand, it is essential to understand the events that led up to this civil unrest.

This began after the then leader of the 2014 coup d’etat Prayuth Chab-ocha was appointed Prime Minister of Thailand in March of 2019. The opposing party believes that the election was rigged in his favour because of the commission having been appointed by the junta which he was a part of. Soon after he was elected in June, the King showed his support for him which prompted more negative reactions. In November, the leader of the Future Forward Party (FFP) Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was disqualified as a member of parliament. The Future Forward Party is a Pro-Democratic party in Thailand that opposes the current military government. In response, thousands of individuals protested against Thanathorn’s disqualification on December 14, but the protests led to no change. The constitutional court’s decision to ban the FFP on February 21st, 2020 was the breaking point of the nation’s population.

The protesters are composed mostly of a younger demographic, demanding reform and for the Prime Minister to step down from power. The protesters have three core demands: to dissolve the parliament and hold the election again, to reform the monarchy and revise the 2017 military-drafted constitution, and to end the harassment of peaceful government critics. They ask for the dissolution of the parliament due to the lack of representation in favour of the current government. To achieve a more democratic parliament, the 2017 constitution should be revised or rewritten since it is deemed as undemocratic by the mass of protesters. They also demand reform of the monarchy’s influence so that the King must come under the Constitution’s authority to prevent the abuse of power. Lastly, they demand that critics of the government who are not violent should not be harassed or imprisoned. People who have been vocal against the government or monarchy have faced jail time, harassment, or have mysteriously disappeared. This should not happen in a democratic society, which is what the protesters are tirelessly striving for.  The main symbol of this movement has been the three-fingers symbol just like in the Hunger Games. As used by the protagonist Katniss Everdeen in the book series, it is a sign of resistance against the government. The protests began peacefully by the Pro-Democracy protesters, yet, there have been measures imposed to silence or demonize them.

After a chain reaction of various protests occurring mainly in Bangkok, the government and monarchy supporters started to fight back. The Prime Minister and government have tried to weaken the protesters’ resolve by declaring a state of emergency in Bangkok. This restricted large gatherings, censoring ‘harmful’ information from the media that spoke out against the government and classing mass transit. Those who went against the imposed measure were met with violence by the police who were using water cannons to try to disperse the citizens. Another group that is against the protests are the supporters of the monarchy. These people, known as the royalists or the ‘yellow shirts’, have started to incite counter-protests which have caused violent attacks. Although they don’t agree with parliament and Prime Minister, they are causing a divide as they believe that going against the monarchy is unacceptable.

The efforts to make the protests die down have not worked as efficiently as believed to do so and the manifestations continue. Protests have continued even though they are now met with a stronger resistance. This movement is proving how the current regime in Thailand is a great threat to human rights and democracy. With a political system that imprisons those who speak out against the monarchy, a Prime Minister elected through a skewed system and law enforcement using intimidation to silence the population—political reform is imperative for the future of Thailand because the current system is not beneficial to the citizens. Authorities have continually censored this passionate movement for change from getting to the outside world. However,  the power of social media has helped tremendously in spreading the voices and struggles of many Thai citizens. For changes to occur, there must be discomfort and perseverance from the population. Just like how Rosa Parks refused to concede to authorities when told to move in America’s civil rights movement, Thai protesters have to continue to fight until they achieve their objective.



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Image Retrieved from Unsplashed.