Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha ordered the withdrawal of the week-old state of emergency in the nation’s capital that barred large gatherings, in a bid to pacify pro-democracy protesters calling for the resignation of his government and monarchy reform.
The move follows a de-escalation in the situation that allows authorities to use existing laws to manage protests, according to a notification signed by Prayuth in the Royal Gazette.
Free Youth, one of the main protest organizations, said via Telegram that even though the emergency rules have been lifted, the government still had not responded to any of the key demands. The organization said it will intensify its agitation if the prime minister didn’t resign in three days, and was preparing to call another mass gathering.
Prayuth has struggled to stem the mounting street demonstrations, which have used Hong Kong-style pop-up rallies to avoid police and defy the emergency rules. The government has shown no signs of meeting the protester’s demands, which would upend the royalist elite that has maintained power throughout much of Thailand’s history, but it has also sought to avoid bloodshed that could further roil the economy.
A former army chief who staged a coup in 2014, Prayuth urged the protesters on Wednesday to trust the parliamentary process to address their grievances during a special session next week and said the government and the activists should “each take a step back” and “find solutions to the problems.”
“The government wanted to show that they’re taking a step back, but it likely won’t change anything,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the political science faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University in northeastern Thailand. “This has no significant implications on the reconciliation between the government and the protesters.”
The demonstrations are underpinned by years of sluggish growth now exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has put the Thai economy on course for its worst performance ever by derailing the two main drivers: tourism and trade. The benchmark SET Index of stocks has lost 23% this year. The gauge rallied as much as 0.6% after the news of the lifting of emergency, while the baht pared losses of as much as 0.2%.
Thailand’s financial markets will take a wait-and-see approach to the protests and the government’s response, said Tim Leelahaphan, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank Pcl in Bangkok. “While the political situation has so far been under control, the lingering protests do not bode well for the Thai economic recovery,” he said.
The demonstrations have shown no signs of letting up, and have even started to spread to other parts of Thailand. They have broken long-held taboos about publicly criticizing the royal family, with demands for the monarch to no longer endorse coups, provide transparency in how funds are spent, and get rid of laws that stifle discussion of the royal family.
Simultaneous rallies by pro-royalist groups in support of King Maha Vajiralongkorn also raised fears of clashes between the rival groups. Past protest movements in Thailand have ended in bloody crackdowns, most recently in 2010.
The youth-led protesters are also calling for the resignation of Prayuth’s government and a rewriting of the constitution, which was drafted by a military-appointed panel after the 2014 coup. The activists say the charter was instrumental in helping Prayuth retain power after the 2019 elections.
The prime minister said it was time to break the cycle of government leaders having to face mobs of opposing groups to prevent the country from becoming ungovernable and descending into chaos.
“The only sure way to achieve a sustainable, enduring resolution to the problems is to speak to each other, respect the due process of law, and then let the will of the people be resolved in parliament,” Prayuth said. “That is the only way.”
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