Pro-democracy activists in military-ruled Thailand have staged a rare protest in Bangkok. Separately, the influential leader of the country’s red shirt movement has told frustrated followers to play dead for now.
An estimated 200 protestors rallied peacefully in the Thai capital on Saturday evening local time, in defiance of the junta’s ban on political gatherings. Police kept watch but did not intervene as the group marched to the city’s Democracy Monument, waved anti-junta banners and shouted slogans.
The gathering, organized by the New Democracy Movement, marked nine years since the 2006 coup which pushed out then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and sparked nearly a decade of political upheaval, broadly pitting his rural and working class supporters against the Bangkok-centered middle class and royalist elite, underpinned by large parts of the military.
Saturday’s gathering was one of the biggest public demonstrations since last year when the military ousted the elected government led by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra and put a lid on months of political turmoil and street protests which sometimes turned violent.
“We’re here to remind people what happens if we are patient and do nothing. Here we are again under a new coup,” 22-year-old economics student Ratthapol Supasopon said, explaining why the group was marking the 2006 anniversary.
The junta has been on the receiving end of international condemnation for its crackdown on civil liberties, but has said it was forced to stage its latest coup to restore peace and reconcile the deep political divisions in the country.
Thaksin ally: He told me to lay low
Meanwhile, a pro-Thaksin leader in Thailand’s northeastern Udon Thani province told news agency Reuters the former prime minister – who is in self-imposed exile – had urged his followers to lay low for now.
“When I spoke to Thaksin, he told me to pretend to be dead a little longer,” red shirt leader Kwanchai Praipana told Reuters, without specifying how he communicated with the influential figure. “He told me to … wait until the next election. That will be the moment that we will win. The only question is whether an election will ever take place.”
Earlier this month, coup leader-turned Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (pictured above) said the next election would not be held until “around” July 2017. He had initially promised quick elections to restore democracy following the May 2014 coup.