Thailand Parliament Meets to Discuss Pro-democracy Protests



The protesters want Prayut's resignation, a rewrite of the military-scripted constitution, and for the government to 'stop harassing' political opponents [Diego Azubel/EPA]
The protesters want Prayut's resignation, a rewrite of the military-scripted constitution, and for the government to 'stop harassing' political opponents [Diego Azubel/EPA]

Thailand’s parliament has begun a special session called to address tensions as pro-democracy protests draw students and other demonstrators into the streets almost daily, demanding the prime minister’s resignation and reforms to the ultra-powerful monarchy.

A former military chief who staged the 2014 coup, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has faced increasing pressure in recent weeks by the protesters, who regard his premiership as illegitimate.

Prayuth last week recalled parliament – which was in recess – to discuss how to reduce tensions.

kAs Speaker of the House Chuan Leekpai began the session on Monday, only 450 of the total of 731 members of both houses had signed in for the meeting.

The protesters want Prayuth’s resignation, a rewrite of the military-scripted constitution, and for the government to “stop harassing” political opponents. But the two-day parliamentary session will not address these demands, focusing instead on the “illegal” protests, according to a statement issued last week.

“Though the people have the freedom to protest based on the constitution, authorities need to control the illegal protests,” said Prayuth.

“We do not want to see clashes or riots in the country,” he said, accusing some protesters of “inappropriate actions”.

Prayuth cautioned that the session would not discuss the monarchy’s role.

Tensions spiked earlier this month when protesters flashed three-finger salutes – a symbol of their movement – at Queen Suthida’s motorcade as it passed by.

The premier responded by imposing emergency measures banning gatherings of more than four, while authorities arrested tens of activists.

Prayuth revoked the measures a week later when they failed to discourage tens of thousands turning up in “guerrilla” protests across Bangkok.

Three activists have been charged under a rarely used law banning “violence against the queen”, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Bangkok, said that the parliamentary session was “the first time there’s been a government forum for both sides to discuss the issue”.

“We’ll see a discussion over the next two days but there will be nothing legally binding coming out of this special session, which is largely seen as an attempt by the prime minister to de-escalate the situation,” he said.

The demands for royal reform from some protesters include the abolition the royal defamation law, a clear accounting of the palace’s finances, and a call for King Maha Vajiralongkorn to stay out of politics.

Pro-royalist groups have emerged in response to these unprecedented challenges, gathering in counter-rallies to pronounce their love for the king.


On Monday, dozens of supporters in yellow shirts – the royal colour – gathered outside Parliament, telling MPs not to reform the monarchy.

“We do not want the monarchy topic to be discussed in Parliament,” said Suwit Thongprasert, a prominent royalist activist. “We are ready to protect the monarchy.”

A student group has called for anti-government protesters to march Monday afternoon to the German Embassy – in apparent defiance of the king who spends long stints in Germany.



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