The Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that all charter amendment activities must go through a referendum meaning that the process to fix the constitution will likely be delayed by up to a year.
Student protesters and Thailand’s Civil Society immediately recognized the decision for what it is: an attempt to delay the process and buy the government more time not only to remain in power but to extend its networks in the countryside through coercion or cash.
It is likely that unless there is external pressure, the government of Prayut Chan-ocha will be able to see out its term and make Prayut the longest ruling prime minister in Thai history.
The student-led protests have in recent weeks lost a bit of momentum both from a split in the leadership and because the government have arrested the strategists and leaders behind the movement.
Violence at rallies, sometimes instigated by student protesters, have also diminished crowd sizes as has the decision by the protesters to touch upon the royal institution in their list of demands.
The decision by the court on Thursday represents an opportunity to reset for the students and allow them to reach a broader swath of Thai Society.
The constitution and this government remains deeply unpopular with many of the Thai electorate not only because of its undemocratic nature but because of Prayut’s lackluster attempts to fix the economy and the underwhelming makeup of the cabinet.
If the students are able to rally around the delayed charter and refocus on the exccesses of the cabinet, they may be able to regain momentum and boost the pro-democracy movement.
That said, if the students cannot unite its various appendages and rally around this point, the protest movement may be slowly coming to an end.
If that is the case, the pro-democracy movement must evolve and find ways to stay relevant heading into the next elections in two years.
What shape that takes remains to be seen. There are opportunities to work with opposition parties and civil society groups to reach out to the grassroots and really understand the problems facing the majority of problems within societies.
It may even be beneficial for the students to leave the classroom and the intellectual space to truly understand what’s happening in Thailand.
Regardless, the movement has now reached a crossroads. If they want the protests to continue and grow, the remaining leaders of the movement must find a way to reach a larger cross section of society. But even if the protest movement has ended, there are many ways for the students to extend the legacy of the last 9 months and continue to be relevant for decades to come.
The choice is theirs to make.
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