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Thailand protesters’ deadline passes, but PM Prayuth Chan-Ocha says he won’t quit

The withdrawal of a state of emergency in Bangkok and the convening of a special session of parliament next week have failed to placate protesters.

By: Bloomberg | October 25, 2020 10:17:41 am
There were at least two protests in Bangkok on Saturday and nine in other provinces, according to Free Youth, which called for the resignation of the prime minister and release of arrested activists.

Thailand is set for a fresh wave of street protests by pro-democracy activists after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha ignored their deadline to quit by Saturday.

Free Youth and the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, two of the main protest groups, said they will stage a rally to the German embassy on Monday in support of their demands, which include a rewriting of the constitution and reform of the monarchy. While the groups didn’t elaborate the reasons for marching to the embassy, King Maha Vajiralongkorn spends the bulk of his time in Germany.

There were at least two protests in Bangkok on Saturday and nine in other provinces, according to Free Youth, which called for the resignation of the prime minister and release of arrested activists.

“If tonight passes and the government still ignores the demands of the people, we’ll step up the pressure so that these demands could come true,” the Thammasat group posted on its Facebook page on Saturday.

The withdrawal of a state of emergency in Bangkok and the convening of a special session of parliament next week have failed to placate protesters. Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri on Saturday said a solution through the parliamentary process was the most appropriate because elected lawmakers represent all sections of society. Prayuth said this week the government and activists should “each take a step back” and “find solutions to the problems.”

The unprecedented targeting of the monarchy has also triggered rallies by pro-royalists, raising fears of clashes between the rival groups.

Parit Chiwarak, a protest leader who was re-arrested this week, said in a note from jail that “if Prayuth wants to see the country move forward, he would need to resign” as the public demanded.

The youth-led protesters are calling for the constitution, drafted by a military-appointed panel after the 2014 coup, to be reworked, claiming it was instrumental in helping Prayuth retain power after the 2019 elections. The issue will be on the agenda of a special parliament session, Anucha said.

On Saturday, an appeal court refused bail of five protest leaders including Parit, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

The prime minister has become “vulnerable” after failing to stem the protests, which may eventually pave the way for his ouster, said Christopher Ankersen, associate professor at New York University’s School of Professional Studies Center for Global Affairs.

“It’s feasible that he could be removed from office either through a political machination of some kind within his own party, or via a military coup, an autogolpe, or some other route, such as a formal royal intervention,” Ankersen said. “Such a move could be used as a sop to the protesters, a way of forestalling real change, while addressing at least one of the main protest demands.”

The protesters 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. The unprecedented targeting of the monarchy has also triggered rallies by pro-royalists, raising fears of clashes between the rival groups.

King Vajiralongkorn greeted some pro-royalist supporters at an event on Friday and he praised a man for holding up a royal portrait among the anti-government protesters, according to a video posted on social media. It was a signal that the king acknowledged the challenge to his authority by the protests, while showing his support to the pro-royalist movement, according to James Buchanan, a visiting lecturer at Mahidol University in Thailand.

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