4 Years After the Thai Coup: Activists Protest Against the Military, But No Critical Mass Yet

Originally published on Channel NewsAsia on May 21, 2018

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the 4th anniversary of the military coup and it has outlawed political protests ever since. But that hasn't stopped some groups from rallying against the military government.

TRANSCRIPT

It’s a Saturday afternoon on the campus of Thammasat University.

People are chatting, sitting on benches, enjoying their weekend.

But one look at the stage and it's clear they're not here for a concert but for a rare political rally against Thailand’s military government.

RANGSIMAN ROME; Activist "Democracy Restoration Group":
"I believe that after these 4 years we should think about the future. If you ask me if we have a future under the mask of General Prayuth Chan-ocha, I believe this country won’t have a future if we don’t fight together."

Rangsiman Rome is a young activist who wants a swift return to democratic elections.

He and his friends are members of the 'Democracy Restoration Group', founded soon after the military seized power in the 2014 coup.

But public displays of discontent with the military government are few and far between, owing to a ban on public gatherings of more than five people.

Thailand’s military government has solidified its rule, four years after it toppled the democratically elected government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

It is the longest rule by the military since the 1970s - something many political observers did not anticipate.

SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT, Bangkok, Thailand:
"In the past four years, the military government has often cited the absence of political protest as a sign of the peace and security it has given the Thai people. But analysts say that doesn’t mean that everybody is content with their rule... but that it just hasn’t translated to a widespread opposition, whether out of fear or indifference."

Analysts say current dissatisfaction is unlikely to build up into bigger protests - for now.

THITINAN PONGSUDHIRAK; Director Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University:

"This time [the] middle class Bangkok bought into the coup. So we’re seeing students, younger people, newer faces - they haven’t reached a critical mass, but I think the criticism, the opposition are mounting. And Thai people are also pretty tolerant compared to others, they’re waiting to have their say when the elections comes."

The delay by the military government to hold a general election has fuelled calls for a return to democratic rule.

RANGSIMAN ROME; Activist "Democracy Restoration Group":
"Our stance is that the people will win their freedom back. We may not be in charge today, but we are proposing a solution to solve the problems one step at a time. If we don’t begin with the freedom of the people today, we won’t be able to start anything. so let me start today by saying: elections are the answer."

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has assured the public the election will definitely be held in early 2019...

but he has also said that if pro-democracy protests continue, there is no guarantee that polls will be held peacefully.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok