Watch | What is happening in Thailand?

A video explainer on why students are protesting across Thailand

Published - October 19, 2020 08:00 pm IST

Thailand’s government, led by the Army chief-turned Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, declared a state of emergency on October 15 , banning public gatherings and censoring the media, to tackle the growing students’ protests.

The protesters feel the emergency decree is yet another attempt by the government to take away their rights.

They have vowed to continue the agitation , deepening the crisis that has shaken the country’s political and royal establishments.

The roots of the current discontentment go back to the 2014 coup which brought Mr. Prayuth and the junta to power.

Junta is a government, especially a military one, that has taken power in a country by force and not by election.

In 2017, the military introduced a new Constitution, which allowed the military to appoint a 250-member Senate that would play a role in selecting the Prime Minister.

The country held the delayed Parliamentary election in 2019, which was seen as an exercise to transfer power from the junta to an elected government.

But Mr. Prayuth retained power after the disputed election and public resentment was building up against the military’s outsized influence in the government.

Also read | Showdown in Thailand: On student protests

In February, 2020, the top court’s decision to dissolve the pro-democracy Future Forward Party triggered instant demonstrations.

The protests, which subsided due to the pandemic, sprang back into action in June after the disappearance of a dissident in Cambodia.

From July onwards, students have maintained the street pressure on the government, and even started targeting the monarchy.

The Thai monarchy has historically been shielded from public criticism by strict lese majeste laws.

The junta gave the reigning monarch, Maha Vajiralongkorn, full control of the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the palace’s roughly $30 billion worth of assets.

Last year, the King brought two Army units under his direct control.

King Vajiralongkorn’s plan appears to be taking the country closer to absolute monarchy and this has triggered unprecedented resistance from the country’s youth.

In August, Anon Nampa, a 35-year-old human rights lawyer called for reforms to the monarchy.

Students submitted 10 demands to the government, asking for a separation of the King’s assets and the Crown Property Bureau.

They wanted to cut the Palace’s share in the national budget, a ban on the King from expressing his political views, and safeguards to prevent him from endorsing future coups.

Criticism of the monarchy can be punished by prison terms up to 15 years in Thailand.

The students have also called for the Prime Minister’s resignation; a new Constitution; fresh, free and fair elections; and an end to attacks on dissidents and Opposition parties.

The government says it won’t use force against the peaceful protesters, but has also warned them against “insulting” the monarchy.

The authorities have not shown any readiness to accommodate the demands of the protesters.

Now, the emergency gives the government more powers to tackle dissent and protests, and the police have already arrested some protest leaders.

With the students refusing to stand down, Thailand could be descending to another showdown.

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