A month of defiance as political protests pick up steam

As the current third wave of the pandemic continues to devastate Thailand, more and more citizens have taken to social media and even onto the streets to voice their disapproval over the Prayut administration’s response.

While calls for the government to step down are growing stronger by the day, the government, for the most part, has failed to respond.

Not only that, the Thai government has also continued to arrest dissidents, while passing a controversial law earlier last week prohibiting citizens from sharing information that “causes public fear”, even if such reports are true.

The decree has since been suspended by the Thai Civil Court on Friday.

But amid those challenges, Thai citizens have remained as determined and defiant as ever, with calls and petitions against the government, both online and offline, unrelenting. 

Here are some ways Thais are finding their voices against the government

Car Mob

On August 1, Thai protesters participated in a socially-distanced anti-government protest “Car Mob”, led by former Red Shirts leader Nattawut Saikua, where protesters cruised around the streets of Bangkok in cars and motorbikes to call for the resignation of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-Ocha over his government’s gross mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The prime minister is said to be working from home while the people die at home,” Nattawut said during the rally.

Hundreds of participants showed up at the Bangkok rally, and other similar “Car Mob” rallies also occurred in more than 30 provinces throughout Thailand. 

A Letter to our Friends

Thai social media blew up earlier this week after a letter written to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-Ocha’s twin daughters by their former classmates was shared and went viral online on Sunday evening.

Titled จดหมายถึงเพื่อน (A Letter to our Friends), the letter asked for the daughters (Ploy and Plern) to “ask their father” to take accountability for his administration’s severe mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, and to step down from his premiership while accordingly paving way for a more capable successor. 

The letter, which was originally published on Facebook and has since been shared over 31k times, was written and signed by 88 of the twins’ former classmates at the faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University, who call themselves Nitade 40.

It immediately went viral following its publication, particularly because nothing of this sort has ever happened before, with local media headlining it earlier this week. The hashtag #จดหมายถึงเพื่อน also trended on Thai Twitter with over 250,000 Tweets by Monday evening. 

The contents within the letter are as follows.

“Dear Ploy Pern, do you still remember those memories and the friendship we have shared for over 17 years?”

“Writing this letter hasn’t been something that was easy for us at all.”

“But what we wanted to tell you guys is this: we have continuously suffered under the leadership of the [current] Prime Minister who is our friends’ father.”

The letter went on to clarify that while they have always maintained and respected the privacy of Ploy and Plern, keeping in mind the clear boundaries between Prayut’s role as a father and as a Prime Minister, his gross mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic has severely affected their livelihoods and drove them to write a letter they “never dared to before.”

“We do not know how much you guys know about what’s happening in the country,” the letter continued.

“But in our eyes, the leadership under your father has led to many of the problems facing the country today: including the current coronavirus outbreak, the government’s lack of clear communication and transparency, their aggressive behavior towards public criticisms, and the collapse of the healthcare system leading people into despair, to lose jobs, dying on the streets, and even ending their own lives.”

“We all agreed that General Prayut Chan-Ocha has to take accountability on these misconducts by immediately stepping down from his position as Prime Minister.”

In an interview with Thai Enquirer, the group that wrote the letter accepted that their move was unprecedented within the framework of a conservative institution like Chulalongkorn University.

“We saw that the administration of General Prayut Chan-Ocha as bringing Thailand into this difficult situation and want him to take responsibility for his actions by stepping down,” Nitade 40 told Thai Enquirer.

“We believe that the voices of his daughters would always be important to him, so we want to ask Ploy and Plern to relay that to their father,” they added. “We debated and disagreed, and concluded with this letter and its contents.”

Release our Friends

Many protesters have been arrested or re-arrested since the beginning of August including “Talu Fah” group leader Jatupat Boonpattaraksa who is better known as “Pai Daodin.

A protest this Monday that was initially led by Jatupat himself to demand the release of three other protesters arrested the night before (Sunday evening) ironically ended with his arrest.

The arrest sparked more protests with demonstrators trying to block the road in front of the Royal Thai Police Sports Club, surrounding the area and throwing red paint on the walls.

Eventually Jatupat and 31 other protesters who were arrested were released on bail.

Clash with the Police

Further defying the police and emergency decree, more than a thousand people joined forces on Saturday in Bangkok demanding for the government to step down, and calling out on their failure to handle the coronavirus outbreak, its poor vaccination programme, and the subsequent impact on the economy and citizens’ livelihoods. 

Hundreds of riot police officers sealed off the road to block the march, which was originally intended to reach the Grand Palace. Protesters then took their march instead towards the direction of the Victory Monument, where more riot police showed up to disperse the crowd by firing tear gases and rubber bullets. 

Several clashes occurred throughout the afternoon, as explosions and shots could be heard coming from the area. Protesters, in defiance, also threw pingpong bombs, stones, and marbles at the police, according to Krisana Pattanacharoen, a police spokesperson.

“Tear gas and rubber bullets were used for crowd control. Our goal is to maintain order,” Krisana Pattanacharoen told reporters on Saturday. 

At least two civilians and three officers have been injured from the classes on Saturday. 

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