For the first time since 2014 there was a pro-democracy demonstration in the capital. In late 2015 pro-democracy leader (and former prime minister) Thaksin Shinawatra called on his followers (the “red shirts”) to “play dead” for the moment and wait for the military government to allow elections. At the time the military was looking for an excuse to crack down hard on any opposition, especially when it involved public demonstrations in the capital.
Times have changed. The elections took place a year ago. The military changed the constitution before allowing elections so the newly elected government is basically a military government pretending to be a democratic one. Not surprisingly the red shirts, now wearing black, are back. The economy is a mess, censorship is rampant and the Islamic and separatist violence is still around down south. The new, pro-military king is, as expected, corrupt and unstable. Not much to cheer about after six years of military rule. Resuming public protests seemed appropriate, even though that sort of thing is now illegal. Then again the military is much more disliked than feared compared to 2014.
The military can’t be blamed for the covid19 (coronavirus) that came out of China three months ago and became a global pandemic. That meant Chinese tourists stopped coming to Thailand and soon after that most other tourists did likewise. Tourism is about 20 percent of the Thai economy and for 2020 tourism activity is expected to be down by at least a quarter and possibly a third or more. That added to other economic woes has got most Thais anxious about their financial futures.
The military can also be blamed for the bad behavior that has made Thailand less attractive to foreign investors. Lots of foreign businesses are moving factories and other investments out of China and would prefer to relocate to somewhere else in East and Southeast Asia. Thailand used to be a favored destination. No more and the military is held responsible by most for this.
The military is also accused of turning its new Cyber Warfare troops loose against Thais who oppose the military rather than against foreign hackers who seek to do harm to Thai individuals, businesses and government agencies. Soldiers have also been employed for all sorts of dirty work directed against opponents of the government. Sometimes the troops wear civilian clothes and pretend to just be pro-military Thais.
The elected military government is behaving much like the former unelected military government. For example, the new government is using compliant courts to terrorize journalists using jail terms for fabricated offenses and getting opposition political parties outlawed the same way. This ensures that the civil war between the military/royalist coalition and democrats continues. The more the military tries to suppress the democrats, the more anger they generate among the majority of Thais who do not want to be ruled by the military. The generals realized they were in trouble after the March 2019 elections showed the democrats winning more votes than expected. The pro-democracy parties attempted to form a coalition government but lost out to a slightly larger coalition assembled by the pro-military parties. This close call for the new military dominated government led to the current policy of terrorizing individual critics (real, suspected or imagined) and litigating suspect organizations out of existence. Methods include trying to arrest and prosecute key pro-democracy politicians on false charges and disrupt pro-democracy activity in parliament.
March 13, 2020: In Bangkok several hundred Thais, dressed in black, protested the misrule of the military since 2014. This demonstration was the result of larger and larger groups showing up on university campuses to discuss and protest military rule. These meetings became larger and more frequent. The black attire is part of the “Black Friday” identity the group has assumed with plans to make the demonstrations a weekly event. That worked in Algeria and may yet work in Hong Kong and maybe in Thailand as well.
March 10, 2020: In the south (Chumphon Province), the army completed mine clearing operations in a portion of the Thai/Burma border that had once been the scene of fighting by Burmese Karen tribal rebels against Burmese, and sometimes Thai troops. That fighting had been, at times intense and extensive in some border areas. This left thousands of landmines and unexploded munitions (dud shells as well as grenades), usually concentrated in a few border areas. The army mine clearing troops recently completed clearing 200 old mines and over a hundred other unexploded items from 3.5 square kilometer border area. These clearance operations make border areas safe once more the locals as well as Thai and foreign tourists.
March 6, 2020: In the south (Narathiwat province), three policemen were ambushed late at night as they were driving back to their station. A firebomb and gunfire killed one policeman and wounded the other two. The attackers fled after making two separate attacks on the speeding police pickup.
March 4, 2020: In Malaysia, negotiators for Thailand and the Moslem separatist group BRN met for two days to discuss ways to settle the continued (since 2004) unrest and violence in the three Moslem majority provinces of southern Thailand. That last of these meetings had been held at the end of January. That was the first such meeting in several years. While the violence has diminished in the last few years since 2004 there have been about 7,000 deaths. More importantly, most Moslems in the south want the violence to stop because it has clearly not worked and is just making life difficult for the very people BRN and other radical groups say they are serving.
February 28, 2020: In the south (Narathiwat province), a roadside bomb was used against a ranger patrol, killing one ranger and wounding the other five. All were traveling in a pickup truck along a rural road. The explosion wrecked and halted the truck.
February 23, 2020: In the south (Narathiwat province), a special counter-terrorism task force searched remote rural areas for suspected terrorist camps. Contact was made and five terrorists were killed while others escaped. Six assault rifles and other abandoned gear.