Democratic Movement Attacks the Established Order in Thailand

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Democratic Movement Attacks the Established Order in Thailand

Pierre Rousset

Led by young people and benefiting from broad support, the Thai democratic movement continues to mature. It is challenging the military-monarchist oligarchy, confronting the royal couple, and harking back to the militant struggles of the past. The enthronement of King Rama X has opened a major succession crisis. More profoundly, a whole archaic order -- which had succeeded in the 1990s and 2000s in aborting attempts to "modernize" the kingdom, shattering the hopes of democratization of society -- is being called into question.

The outbreak of the Thai crisis owes a lot to the very special personality of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, enthroned under the name of Rama X of the Chakri dynasty. If his more rational and well-liked sister, Princess Sirindorn, had... taken the throne in his place, things probably would have been different. However, this crisis has much deeper springs than a monarchical succession.

Young people, especially students, are clashing with the military-monarchical order and not just a hated king. They demand that the Palace agree to abide by the principles of a constitutional monarchy, recalling that absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932. They demand that the army cease to impose itself at the heart of institutional and political power. They are thus attacking the two pillars of the regime.

A new generation of activists is emerging, often with young women like Panussaya "Rung" Sitthijirawatthanakul leading the way. Starting from the campuses, the movement has continued to mature, turning to the history of the kingdom for answers to current problems and reconnecting with past popular struggles. It is showing a lot of imagination, initiative, and courage.

It all started with an ironic tweet about the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Its author, known as the "Penguin" -- namely 22-year-old political science student Parit Chiwarak -- had been arrested and detained for six days, his head being shaved by his jailers in order to "break any spirit of freedom." Until then, Twitter had remained a space of relative freedom. The incident, heralding an escalation of repression, had lit the powder.

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