Last week we learned that some protests were brewing in the streets of Thailand’s capital, driven largely by students demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister and democratic reforms that would lessen the power of the monarchy. The Thai government responded in a rather rapid and brutal fashion, declaring a state of national emergency and arresting some of the protest leaders who were shipped off to parts unknown. The protests, though far less violent than the ones we’ve been seeing in the United States lately, continued on each night. But now the Prime Minister has declared an end to the official state of emergency in what appears to be an olive branch being offered to the demonstrators. So does this mean that the nascent revolution is over or have the students convinced the government to enact a few reforms? (Associated Press)
Thailand’s government on Thursday canceled a state of emergency it had declared last week for Bangkok in a gesture offered by the embattled prime minister to cool massive student-led protests seeking democracy reforms.
The decree had banned public gatherings of more than four people and allowed censorship of the media, among other provisions. It was challenged in court by an opposition party and a group of university students.
The revocation of the emergency decree, effective at noon Thursday, declared that the situation had been mitigated and could now be dealt with by existing laws.
In a statement to the press, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha described the revocation as a “first move” toward de-escalating the conflict. He had already agreed to recall the Parliament for an emergency session to deal with the unrest. At least thus far, however, it’s difficult to read between the lines and determine what’s going on here. Ending the state of emergency could be looked at as a concession to the protesters. But at the same time, there was already a court case in progress where the legality of the emergency orders was being challenged. It’s possible that Chan-ocha was simply pulling to plug on the plan to avoid an embarrassing loss in court.
Further, recalling the Parliament doesn’t necessarily mean that they are coming back to discuss reforms. When the PM says he wants them to “deal with” the unrest, that could just as easily mean that he wants new laws passed to criminalize the protesters’ activities and provide a fig leaf for locking even more of them up. We already know that the royal family is none too pleased with the situation. They still have their own supporters who have been taking to the streets in what is being described as royalist counterprotests. Skirmishes have broken out between the two groups.
Presently, the student groups are still demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, constitutional changes providing a more democratic system and reforms to the monarchy’s control of the government. On top of that, they are demanding the release of the protest leaders who have been arrested. In a statement issued in response to the Prime Minister’s announcement last night, they announced that they would go home, but they would return in three days if their demands are not met.
None of this sounds very likely to occur. The PM shows no inclination toward resigning and King Vajiralongkorn doesn’t sound at all ready to sit down for some equivalent of a Magna Carta signing ceremony. Given the authoritarian power vested in Thailand’s government, it appears equally likely that they may simply start cracking down on the demonstrators until the protests dissipate. The other possibility is that this situation could break out into some limited form of civil war. At this point, it’s simply too early to tell, and the state controls the messaging in the media in Thailand to a large degree, so we’re largely relying on social media to get the details of what’s happening in the streets.