The barometer in Thailand was somewhat overshadowed on Black Friday because of the coronavirus pandemic in large parts of the world. Yet the reading was suitably alarming nonetheless. Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters marched on Parliament in Bangkok wearing black T-shirts to mourn the state of Thailand under an army-aligned government.
Notably it was the first street protest in several years in a country that has been roiled by upheavals and uncertainty and the three-dimensional tussle between the palace, the military and the political class. There are three facets too to the nature of the crisis ~ chiefly the mounting discontent with the government of the former army chief, Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who has put in place what can be described as a quasi-military dispensation.
Yet another is that the Opposition Future Forward Party has been disbanded. Furthermore, the country’s economy is stuttering as coronavirus has ruined the primary industry of tourism. Disaffection has piled on disaffection and Friday witnessed the first pro-democracy march since the first of the series as it were in 2014. Indeed, Thailand under a former army chief showcases a shambolic democracy.
It is pretty obvious that the change has been generally unacceptable not the least because the military, till some years ago, never did interfere in the face of political turmoil, even corruption at the helm, notably the involvement and exile of the Shinawatra clan. In the net, instability has been almost institutionalised.
Protesters have met inside university campuses in recent weeks but are now converging on the streets of Bangkok ~ the glitzy capital of mortal street politics over the past 14 years. Thailand voted Prayut’s conservative government into power a year ago. It was the first election since a 2014 coup and was held under a Constitution that was crafted by the army. It is said to have afforded Prayut an unfair advantage in the praxis of governance.
The Black Friday rally was at once peaceful and boisterous, the critical signal being that it has called for the government to quit. “Our families are grassroots people and we’re directly affected by the government policies and the failing economy,” is the general refrain of Thailand’s student fraternity. The impact of coronavirus is likely to retard growth to under two per cent this year in a country that contends with one of Asia’s highest income disparities.