SITUATION UPDATE BRIEF: THAILAND – RISK OF UNREST ON THE RISE AS ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS GATHER MOMENTUM

Key takeaways

Thailand’s military-backed government faces growing dissent from pro-democracy groups, as student-led protests have gained momentum in the past month. While the country has witnessed the largest anti-government protest since the 2014 military coup, the movement has largely been peaceful and has caused limited disruption to businesses to date.

While the government has shown a willingness to hear the protesters’ demands, the two sides remain far apart on potential resolutions. The recent arrests of key leaders of the movement will raise serious questions about the government’s credibility and sincerity towards dialogue on the matter.


Public monuments and educational institutions across the country will remain the key sites for street demonstrations over the coming weeks. The breakdown of communication between the government and the Free People group, or the proliferation of pro-royalist counter-protesters will likely lead to more disruptive unrest that could adversely affect business operations and tourism. The economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic may fuel public anger and result in stronger sentiment against the government.

Background

The largest anti-government protests since the 2014 military coup took place on 16 August. Despite Thailand’s ongoing State of Emergency banning large gatherings, more than 20,000 people reportedly attended a mass rally in Bangkok, organised by the Free People – a student-led pro-democracy activist group. The event in Bangkok followed several weeks of student protests across the country, calling for immediate changes to what they perceive to be undemocratic government institutions that are propped up by the military.


Although the long-awaited House of Representative elections in 2019 brought an end to a five-year military junta rule, the government remains largely controlled by the country’s military which took power in 2014. Under the 2017 constitution, drafted by the junta government, the 250 members of the Senate (the upper house of the re-established National Assembly) are chosen by the military. The constitution also stipulates that the prime minister does not need to be an elected member of the house and is selected by the entire parliament (House of Representatives and Senate). As a result, former general and coup leader Prayut Chano-cha extended his tenure as prime minister. Human rights groups also accused the military of using intimidation tactics during the election, undermining the validity of the 2019 polls.

The ongoing protest movement was initially triggered…

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