THAILAND “The people want a political reform, and the first step is to oust the military junta”

Student assembly on the campus of Maha Sarakham University (northeastern country)

An interview with students from the United Front for Democracy at Mahasarakham University (in the north-east province of Maha Sarakham)

How did the mass movement for democracy begin?

It began among students and young people. The military regime that has been in place since 2014 (1) imposed a dark period for the democratic movement. The « flash mobs » of February 2020 (2) gave new hope. The second stage of the mobilization took place in the summer of 2020, when new strata of students and youth mobilized, contradicting a common belief that youth were largely apolitical.

Who participates in the movement?

Students, young people, workers, « middle class » workers.

What are the slogans?

We demand the resignation of the Prime Minister, General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, and that the people be allowed to rewrite the Constitution, to restrict the power of the monarchical institutions.

How did you organize in your university to form the Mahasarakham University United Front for Democracy?

We cooperated between different student groups, and all these groups decided to work together in the United Front for Democracy. At the starting point of this grouping, there were politically aware students who had to fight extremely hard to express their views. At the university there was no space for debate and for our movement to express itself. We are young intellectuals; we could not content ourselves with merely reading books and discussing in small groups. We aspired to do something that could shake up the elite, to win a better life.

What are the popular aspirations regarding the government and the monarchy?

The people are demanding political reform, and the first step is to oust the National Council for Peace and Order (the military junta). The junta must be excluded from political life and the Prime Minister must resign. The second step is to reform the monarchy, because the Thai monarchy controls all political life through the army, the bourgeoisie, the Buddhist clergy and the bureaucracy: its powers must be restricted, and the monarchy must be subject to the constitution.

Are there any currents that demand the establishment of a republic?

There are groups that are calling for a republic, but they are a very small minority in the movement.

What are the consequences of the global crisis of the capitalist system?

The consequences are massive layoffs of middle-class workers; and the prices of agricultural products are plummeting due to the effects of the global trade war and capitalism.

What is the situation of workers in the informal sector?

There is great concern because, for the government, there is no question of setting up any kind of welfare State that could give them rights, and the State leaves them in despair.

Do the workers have trade union organizations?

The trade union movement in Thailand is very weak, and in many cases the existing unions remain under the control of the bourgeoisie.

What are the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Economic recession, layoffs and rising unemployment. All this increases the discontent against the government and feeds the protests.

What is the situation in hospitals?

The government has made cuts in public health budgets.

Interview conducted by Dominique Ferré, November 15, 2020

(1) In 2014, an umpteenth military coup put an end to the civilian government. General Prayuth Chan-o-cha became Prime Minister.