Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters marched on parliament in Bangkok Friday, wearing black T-shirts to mourn the state of Thailand under an army-aligned government, in the first street protest for several years.
Discontent with the government of ex-army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha is seething, with a progressive opposition party disbanded and the country’s economy faltering as the COVID-19 crisis batters the key tourism industry.
Protesters have met inside university campuses in recent weeks but are now edging back onto the streets of the capital, which has played host to rival - and often deadly - rounds of street politics over the last 14 years.
Thailand voted Prayut’s conservative government into power a year ago.
It was the first election since a 2014 coup and held under an army-scripted constitution that critics say gave Prayut an unfair advantage.
The boisterous but peaceful ‘Black Friday’ rally, calling for the government to quit, is the latest reflection of his unpopularity.
‘Our families are grassroots people and we’re directly affected by government policy and the failing economy,’ 22-year-old student leader Thip Ubsorn said.
Thailand’s pro-democracy movements - usually led by students - have often ended in bloody army crackdowns.
The powerful military has carried out 12 successful coups in nearly 90 years and remains lodged in the nation’s politics.
But now students - organised on social media and also emboldened by Hong Kong’s protest movement - are slowly mobilising once again.
‘We’re not scared, we’re a new generation,’ one 27-year-old post-graduate student who called herself BK said.
‘We’re wearing black to mourn the death of the rule of law, justice and democracy in our country.’
Thailand’s constitutional court last month disbanded the Future Forward Party, a movement popular among millennials, which won over six million votes at last year’s polls.
Its stridently anti-military agenda rattled the conservative establishment.
But the party’s abolition and the ban from politics of its executive, including frontman Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, has enraged a public weary of rule by ex-generals and big business affiliates.
Thailand has one of Asia’s highest income disparities.
The impact of coronavirus is forecast to hammer back growth to under two percent this year.
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