Thai Protesters Rally again, Promoting a Diversity of Causes

On Saturday, pro-democracy protesters in Thailand gathered once again, endorsing a number of causes and taking the opportunity to express their disapproval of the political system of the country directly to the monarch.

The rally at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok under the name 'Mob Fest' was dubbed by some 20 organisations as the latest in a series of protests calling for major government reforms. Among them were high school students, women's rights advocates and LGBTQ activists, reports UNB.

The student-led protest movement's main demands are that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha step down, change the constitution to make it more democratic, and reform the monarchy to be made more accountable.

The movement has placed pressure on the government of Prayuth, which has now called a Parliament session for Tuesday and Wednesday to address revisions to the constitution after failing to stop it through the use of police force.

Anticipating that the legislators will not take meaningful action, the protest movement has already dubbed what it considers to be the biggest march for Nov. 21 so far.

The demand for the monarchy is the most divisive since historically the royal institution is regarded as the nation's heart and soul, and to be handled with the utmost respect. It is covered by a law that makes the monarch's defamation punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The army, a major influence in Thai politics, has declared defense of the monarchy to be one of its main duties, and many ordinary citizens also regards it with devotion.

However the issue of changing the monarchy has been prioritized by the protest movement because it argues that the institution holds too much power and that change is the secret to establishing true democracy. So even at the risk of violent blowback from hardcore royalists, they are pursuing their unparalleled challenge.

A crowd of several thousand protesters at Democracy Monument on Saturday showed their sentiment when a royal motorcade with King Maha Vajiralongkorn passed by. They turned their backs, put their hands in the air to display their three-finger protest gesture and sang the national anthem. A small contingent of royalists across the street shouted “Long live the king.”

The king and queen Suthida were on their way to preside over the opening of a new mass transit station in the capital elsewhere. The royal couple have maintained a packed schedule of public events in recent weeks, buoying their followers.

As has been the case at many recent events, they stepped out to mingle with reverent members of the general public after taking part in the formal ceremony, who cheered them loudly and waved Thai flags, several sporting yellow shirts synonymous with allegiance to the crown.

Meanwhile, pro-democracy demonstrators around the city draped a large white cloth around the Democracy Monument, on which they wrote messages to the government with their demands and hopes for the future. When lights shone on the monument after dark, the effect of the covering was extremely dramatic.

Initially, police attempted to stop their operation, causing a minor altercation that left a police officer with a leg injury that resulted in him being rushed to a hospital.

The general atmosphere at the rally, however was festive as a number of groups supported their causes with petitions and speeches, and the audience was entertained by music.

The “Bad Students” group, as they mockingly call themselves, gathered earlier at the Education Ministry to air their complaints about an education system they consider antiquated and authoritarian, with unreasonable regulations. They have already won some concessions on dress codes and hairstyles, but seek reforms in the curriculum as well.

The students displayed a white coffin with a photo of Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, and declared they support the broader movement’s demand for constitutional change.

The group Women for Freedom and Democracy did lobbying work concerning laws on abortion, domestic violence, prostitution and other issues. One booth supported prisoners’ rights.

Other speakers included a Buddhist monk and an advocate for stateless people, who in Thailand usually belong to hilltribe minorities.

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