© Bloomberg. Pro-democracy protesters take part in a protest at a road junction in Bangkok on October 15, 2020, after Thailand issued an emergency decree following an anti-government rally the day before. Photographer: Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP via Getty Images
(Bloomberg) – Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters staged a rally for a second day in a row in the Thai capital, defying the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha to quell escalating protests in favor of the reform of the monarchy and a greater democracy.
Protesters shouting “Prayuth get out” gathered at the Ratchaprasong intersection in the middle of Bangkok’s main shopping district and pushed through police barricades, demanding the release of leaders arrested by police in a morning raid. Crowds swelled throughout the evening before dispersing around 10 p.m. They vowed to return to the same place on Friday night.
The large crowd shows that the protests are unlikely to abate despite the arrest of key leaders and the government decision to ban gatherings of five or more people. Growing protests have weighed on the country’s currency and stocks, with foreign investors turning into net sellers of $ 10.6 billion so far this year. The baht fell on Thursday as the benchmark SET of stocks closed 1.7% lower, extending losses this year to 21%.
“The situation is certainly far from ideal for investors, especially if the protests escalate,” said Mingze Wu, a currency trader at StoneX Group in Singapore. “We will likely see a flight of funds from Thailand to other similar countries in the region. The baht will certainly be lower. “
The protests, initially led mostly by students, broke taboos on public criticism of the royal family, which sits at the top of power in Thailand. Protesters questioned taxpayer funds earmarked for royal affairs as well as laws that stifle discussions about the monarchy.
Thursday night’s protest came a day after tens of thousands of protesters crossed police lines on a march to Government House, Prayuth’s office, in an escalation of protests that began in early July. Some protesters greeted with three fingers – a symbol of the protests – a procession of Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana, who smiled at them and waved to them.
Among those arrested were Arnon Nampa and Parit Chiwarak, according to Thai human rights lawyers. Parit had written a statement calling for reform of the monarchy with 10 demands, including prohibiting the king from approving any coup and revoking laws that criminalize insults against King Maha Vajiralongkorn and key members of the Royal family.
Protesters are also calling for the resignation of Prayuth, a former army chief who staged a coup in 2014. They are pushing to rewrite the constitution drafted by a panel appointed by the military who helped him to remain in the following elections last year. The government has said it is open to changes in some areas, but a process of rewriting the constitution has been delayed in parliament.
Prayuth said the government was ready to open public forums for protesters “but everything must be done within the framework of the law”. “The majority will have to listen to the minority, and the minority will also have to respect different opinions,” he said in a statement.
On Wednesday evening, the government said legal action would be taken against protesters who did not respect the monarchy – one of the first official responses referring directly to criticism of the palace. Prayuth also announced a so-called “Declaration of Serious Emergency in Bangkok”, which effectively banned protests as well as the publication of news that could “harm national security” and “cause panic”.
A special cabinet meeting on Friday is expected to approve the emergency decree. The latest measures come in addition to a national emergency in place since the end of March to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic, which allows the government to enforce mandatory quarantines and streamline plans to fight against disease without multiple approvals.
The protests have now moved to the heart of Bangkok. Thursday night’s site, in front of the Central World shopping center, was the scene of protests in 2010 that ended in a demining operation in which dozens of people were killed.
The protests have gathered momentum amid the worst economic crisis facing the tourism and trade dependent country, which adopted a $ 60 billion stimulus to tackle the crisis caused by the pandemic. The emergency could also hamper the government’s plans to gradually reopen tourism to foreign visitors from this month.
“The state of emergency is likely to fuel the movement that is already gaining momentum,” said Punchada Sirivunnabood, associate professor of politics at Mahidol University near Bangkok. “The protesters will likely continue their movement because they are upset that the government is not listening to their demand.”
(Updates with the Prime Minister’s comments in the 11th paragraph.)
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