GZERO Media logo

Young Thais take on the generals... and the King

Young Thais take on the generals... and the King

Thousands of young people have taken to Thailand's streets in recent weeks to raise their voices against an increasingly unpopular government. Angry protests are a dime a dozen in the Land of Smiles, so why is this movement different?


First, the protestors are defying strict social-distancing rules under an ongoing nationwide state of emergency to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Second, they are facing off against the powerful Thai military, which seized power following a 2014 coup and rewrote the country's constitution to win a parliamentary majority following a carefully stage-managed election in 2019. The political dominance of the generals is now deeply entrenched.

Third, this youth movement is the first in a generation that has no ties to either the ultra-royalist, military-backed "yellow shirts" or the populist "red shirt" supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former prime minister deposed by a previous coup in 2006.

But most importantly, these protestors are breaking a taboo that will horrify many older Thais by (indirectly) questioning the authority of the King. It's is a game-changer for Thai politics — an assault on an institution that has remained the only national symbol of continuity and stability since 1932.

For this movement, the only way to restore Thailand's democracy and bring transformative change is to oust the entire existing power structure.

These activists are staging their protests in new ways. They mobilize via social media to organize flash mobs. When security forces gather to oppose them, they flash a three-finger salute of youth resistance popularized by the Hunger Games book and movie franchise.

The protesters have three demands. First, they want to scrap the constitution that has allowed the generals to manipulate the electoral system, for instance by disbanding the progressive Future Forward Party for accepting a loan from its own founder to finance the 2019 campaign. Although the party finished third in the vote, it was then barred from entering an anti-military coalition government by a creative interpretation of electoral law and the intervention of the Senate (which is entirely appointed by the military).

Second, they want the resignation of Prayuth Chan-ocha, the 2014 coup leader who decided to stay on as prime minister. And third, the military must stop going after peaceful pro-democracy activists, one of whom recently turned up dead in Cambodia.

The movement is also focused on the future of young people in Thailand, where the economy is expected to shrink by more than 8 percent this year due to the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry.

Warnings that they have nothing to lose have even emboldened the protestors to target the (until now untouchable) monarchy. At rallies, demonstrators have waved signs calling to "abolish 112," the section in the Thai criminal code that punishes with 3 to 15 years behind bars any offense to the royal family. It's a painful indictment of King Vajiralongkorn… only four years after he succeeded his father, the much more widely revered King Adulyadej.

The former monarch was loved by most Thais, in part because he sometimes intervened in times of political unrest to ease tensions. The new King's unpopularity, heightened by news that he spent the coronavirus lockdown at a luxury resort in Germany, leaves him deeply dependent on the military (which explains why he forbade his own sister, Princess Ubolratana, from running for prime minister against Prayuth in 2019).

Change is not on the horizon. Not yet, at least. The military and monarch have more than enough muscle to beat back protests. But the willingness of members of this movement to cross lines that have never been crossed before signals a generational transition that could upend Thailand's power structure in years to come.

Empathy and listening are key to establishing harmonious relationships, as demonstrated by Callista Azogu, GM of Human Resources & Organization for Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), an Eni subsidiary in Abuja. "To build trust is very difficult. To destroy it is very easy," says Callista, whose busy days involve everything from personnel issues to union relationships. She sees great potential for her native Nigeria not only because of the country's natural resources, but because of its vibrant and creative people.

Learn more about Callista in this episode of Faces of Eni.

Saturday will mark the beginning of an historic turning point for European politics as 1,001 voting members of Germany's Christian Democratic Union, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, hold an online conference to elect a new leader.

Here are the basic facts:

More Show less

Does Cuba belong back on the US's State Sponsors of Terrorism list? The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board showed their support for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's decision on this issue in a recent opinion piece, "Cuba's Support for Terror." But in this edition of The Red Pen, Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analysts Risa Grais-Targow, Jeffrey Wright and Regina Argenzio argue that the WSJ's op-ed goes too far.

We are now just a few days away from the official end of Donald Trump's presidency, but the impacts of his latest moves in office will obviously last far beyond Joe Biden's inauguration. There's the deep structural political polarization, the ongoing investigations into the violence we saw at the Capitol, lord knows what happens over the next few days, there's also last-minute policy decisions here and abroad. And that's where we're taking our Red Pen this week, specifically US relations with Cuba.

More Show less

Watch Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, lend perspective to this week's historic impeachment proceedings.

Impeachment. President Trump became the first president ever to be impeached twice this week. And the question on everybody's mind is will he be convicted in the Senate? And I think the answer right now is we just don't know. I'd probably bet against it. There was a really strong Republican vote against impeaching him in the House, with only 10 of the over 100 Republicans breaking with the President and voting to impeach him. And the question now is in the Senate, is there more support for a conviction? Senate Majority Leader McConnell has indicated he's at least open to it and wants to hear some of the facts. And I expect you're going to hear a lot of other Republicans make the same statement, at least until the trial begins.

More Show less

They call it Einstein. It's the multibillion-dollar digital defense system the US has used to catch outside hackers and attackers since 2003. But it was no match for what's looking like one of the biggest cyber breaches in US history. Ian Bremmer breaks it down.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Cyber attack: an act of espionage or war?

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal

Will the Senate vote to convict Trump?

US Politics