2020 is a year that will go down in history as a year quite unlike any other we have seen for some time. The world faced the Australian bushfires, a World War III threat and a global pandemic that upended daily life for everyone around the world. As if we needed more proof that capitalism is broken, the stock market swung to ever higher highs as unemployment and debt mounted worldwide. But there were bright spots, too: Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite winning Best Picture at the 2020 Oscars (was that really this year?), a scandal in the British royal family (oops), and the development of a vaccine in record time.
Thailand saw a watershed year, where politics took center stage. Protests racked the nation, sporadically at first, and then almost unstoppably in the second half of the year. COVID-19 was largely absent after the first wave in March, until a surprise resurgence in December. The tourist nation kept its borders largely secure, a controversial choice.
In Thailand, we take a look back at our 20 Most Memorable Moment of 2020:
Jan 8: COVID-19 comes to Thailand
According to the WHO, Thailand becomes the first country to confirm a COVID-19 case outside Wuhan: a passenger arriving at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport from Wuhan on 8 January.
- Feb 8: Mass shooting at Korat live-streamed
Nakhon Ratchasima saw one of the deadliest mass shootings in Thai history, as an army sergeant escaped a nearby base and gunned down 26 people in Terminal 21 Korat. Disturbingly, the gunman posted updates and shared a live stream of the shooting on his Facebook account – prompting comparisons to the Christchurch and Munich massacres. Read the Thai Enquirer’s story on how social media failed us during the Korat mass shooting.
- Feb 21: Constitutional court dissolves Future Forward
The Constitutional Courts dissolved Thailand’s newly born Future Forward Party and banned its 16 Party executives from entering politics for 10 years. The court argued that the Party unlawfully accepted 191.3 million baht loaned by party leader Thanathorn Jungroongruengkit. The dissolution prompted the first small-scale protests of the year.
- March 9: Palang Pracharat MP Mask Scandal
As COVID-19 cases (and panic) increased and the nation neared lockdown, police investigators discovered the hoarding of 200 million masks by Sornsuvee “Boy” Pooraveenasawatchari, a close aide of Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow (who himself was accused of drug trafficking in Australia). ‘Sia Boy’ was charged of selling the masks at an inflated price during the pandemic, as Prompow faced public backlash.
- March 25: Thai government declares a COVID-19 State of Emergency and closes national borders
The Thai government enacted the 2005 Emergency Decree to combat the first wave of COVID-19 as cases, following a high of 188 cases on March 22nd. The first set of measures instructed senior citizens and children to stay home, and closed Thai national borders, prohibiting travel into the country through land, sea or air. Borders would not be reopened to non-Thais through the summer.
- April 14 – 15: Milk Tea Alliance is formed
In one of the more surreal political turns of this year, a Thai celebrity mistakenly liked a tweet that mistakenly labelled Hong Kong a country, and started a Twitter flame war between Chinese netizens and Thai, Hong Kong and Taiwanese netizens that solidified into an anti-CCP / pro-democracy online alliance. The Milk Tea Alliance has evolved into significant offline action via the Anti One China Policy Thailand group, and has flourished in India, Belarus, the Philippines, and elsewhere.
- June 4: Activist Wanchalerm Satsaksit abducted in Phnom Penh
Wanchalerm Satsaksit, 37, is a prominent pro-democracy activist who lived in exile in Cambodia since 2014. In June 2018, Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant, but by June 2020 he was abducted by armed men outside his home in Phnom Penh. In Thailand, his disappearance led to more protests, with students demonstrating at the Democracy Monument and tying white ribbons in public places.
- July 18: First Free Youth protest, where the Three Demands are announced
Around 2,500 people attend the Free Youth protest at Democracy Monument, in protest of Thailand’s “deep-rooted dictatorial system.” Three demands were presented to Prime MInister Prayudh Chan O-Cha’s government: the dissolution of parliament, the protection of activists (like Wanchalerm) and the drafting of a new constitution.
- Aug 3: At a Harry Potter protest, Anon Nampa calls for reform of the monarchy
Thousands attended a Harry Potter-themed protest at Democracy Monument, organized by students from Kasetsart University and the Mahanakorn for Democracy group. The protest, according to one of the student speakers, was aimed at “You Know Who” and his network of darkness. Human rights lawyer Anon Nampa took to the stage to call for reform of the monarchy and open criticism of the crown, cementing him as one of the key leaders of the 2020 protests.
- Aug 10: At Thammasat, Rung announces the 10 demands
At a protest in front of Thammasat University, the 21-year-old Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul shocked the nation by declaring a set of demands aimed at monarchic reform, including the revocation of the lese majeste law and the reduction of tax money supporting the royal institution.
- Sept 29: Miss Universe Contestant Cheraim disqualified
For some, an equally shocking event took place a month later: the disqualification of the wildly popular, outspoken Chayathanus “Cheraim” Saradatta, a Miss Universe Thailand contestant found to have colluded with one of the pageant’s organizers. Cheraim had captured public imagination with her well-informed, politically conscious answers to the Miss Universe Thailand questions, addressing legalization of prostitution, the Black Lives Matter movement and her own speech impediment. Following her disqualification, contestant Amanda Obdam went on to win the contest.
- Oct 14: Queen Suthida’s motorcade brushes with the protests, leading to Article 110 charges
Tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated outside Bangkok’s Government House, when the Queen’s motorcade unexpectedly thrust its way into the crowd. Police pushed back protesters at both sides, as many chanted “Our taxes” and “Nation, Religion, People.” On Oct 16, two activists were arrested on charges of violence against the Queen.
- Oct 16: Water cannon used for the first time against protesters
Two days after “severe” emergency measures were enacted, thousands of protesters gathered at Pathumwan district. At around 6:30 pm, police forcibly dispersed the organization using water cannons laced with blue guy and an apparent teargas chemical, before charging in with batons and shields. The crackdown led to widespread censure, both in Thailand and abroad, of the government’s disproportionate measures.
Our video recap from Friday night after state security officials moved in to disperse anti-government protesters.— Thai Enquirer (@ThaiEnquirer) October 17, 2020
Armed police chased away students as young as 15 in their attempt to "reclaim the area."
Our story below: #ม็อบ17ตุลา #ม็อบ16ตุลา #whatishappeninginthailand pic.twitter.com/mS9MKo9Bmn
- Oct 28: Mind vs. Pareena showdown on Thairath TV talk show breaks the internet
A face-off between outspoken Palang Pracharat MP Pareena Kraikrupt and 25-year old protest leader Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon on “Straight Talking with Jomquan” went viral, especially as host Jomquan Laopetch pushed Pareena on Prayudh’s control of the senate – something with even Pareena could not deny.
- Nov 6: Competition authorities approve CP’s $10.6bn bid for Tesco’s Asian businesses
A ruling by the Office of the Trade Competition Commission (OTCC) granting conditional approval to the acquisition of Tesco’s Asian business by Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group raises questions about monopoly power in Thailand. According to S&P Market Intelligence, CP currently holds 64% of the convenience store market through its 7/11 stores, and with the addition of Tesco’s 1,600 stores, would raise the group’s market share to 73%. Read the Thai Enquirer’s report on the deal here.
- Nov 17: A violent crackdown in front of Government House, where the rubber duck becomes a protest hero
Pro-democracy protesters were repelled with at least five rounds of tear gas and chemical-laced water cannons at a demonstration in front of the Parliament House, with the BBC reporting over 40 people injured. Protesters use inflatable rubber ducks to fend off the water, transforming the rubber ducks overnight into protest heroes.
- Nov 19: PM Prayudh threatens to bring back Article 112
Prime Minister Prayudh Chan O-cha announces after a cabinet meeting that “all laws” would be used against protesters who break them, a statement widely understood as invoking the threat of Article 112 against protesters. Article 112 carries a minimum sentence of three years, and a maximum sentence of fifteen years. As of December 25, 37 activists have been charged, some with multiple charges.
- Nov 25: Anti-royalist rally planned takes place at SCB; the government builds its first ‘Container Wall’
After protesters announced a rally at the Crown Property Bureau, the Thai government constructed a wall of Maersk shipping containers to block pathways to the CPB. Protesters changed the rally location to the Siam Commerical Bank – whose majority shareholder is King Rama X after the shares were transferred to him from the CPB – and the government drew ridicule for its “Great Wall of Thailand.”
- Dec 6: FreeYOUTH releases its branding for the ‘Restart Thailand’ campaign, making reference to the Communist Hammer & Sickle
FreeYOUTH’s logo stokes widespread political discussion: drawing support, eliciting censure, with others still dismissing it as a ‘meme’ to troll the Thai government. Into the heated debate, Free YOUTH then threw another bombshell: a long statement doubling down on its communist stance on December 14, arguing “communism does not equal dictatorship.” The statement provoked reaction from Free YOUTH allies, with Penguin and Rung disavowing the move.
- December 19: COVID-19 resurgence in Samut Sakhon, with 548 cases discovered in a single day
After months with zero locally transmitted cases, the discovery of over 500 cases among the migrant worker population in Samut Sakhon came as a surprise to Thais gearing up for the holiday season. The outbreak would mark the beginning of Thailand’s currently ongoing second wave.