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  • Aug 18, 2020

Thailand’s Artists Call for Democracy and Political Reform

Pro-democracy protesters gather in Bangkok on July 18, 2020. Image via Facebook.

A group of artists and cultural workers in Thailand, under the name Arts and Culture Network for Democracy, has publicized a statement in support of the ongoing anti-government protests in Bangkok and has collected more than 1,049 signatures to date.

The statement, released on August 13 according to The Nation Thailand, claims to support the “students, youth, and people across the country who have expressed courage in speaking publicly about the problems of Thai society since November 2019.” The Arts and Culture Network for Democracy maintains that the current laws restricting political criticisms jeopardize artistic and cultural creativity, and advocates that the government consider proposals to reform the monarchy, accept differing opinions, exempt protesters from prosecution, create an open space for political discussion towards a sustainable democracy, and end military coups and oppressions.

Since July, the social movement led by the student activist group Free Youth in Bangkok has spread nation-wide. The escalation was sparked by the pandemic-induced economic crisis and longstanding dissatisfaction with governmental corruption, as well as public anger over the June abduction of prominent activist Wanchalearm Saksatsit, the seventh anti-government activist to disappear since 2019. The demonstration on August 16 at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument rallied over 10,000 people, the largest rally of this type in the country since the military takeover in 2014. The protests have focused on three major demands drafted by Free Youth, namely prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's resignation and the dissolution of parliament, a new constitution, and governmental tolerance of political opposition.

The current wave of protests broke out in late 2019 over the parliamentary disqualification of the anti-military opposition political party Future Forward Party, and have since evolved into calls for constitutional and monarchy reformations. The Future Forward Party was disbanded by a court order in February.

Thailand is currently a constitutional monarchy since the abolishment of absolute monarchy in 1932, although offences to lèse majesté laws are punishable by up to 15 years in jail. From 2014 until July 2019, the country was ruled by a military junta led by then general officer Prayuth Chan-ocha, who became prime minister in August 2019 following his retirement from the military.

Fion Tse is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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