There is an adage regarding the rather predictable nature of instability in human society — when it rains, it pours. Admittedly, the saying has largely negative connotations though, in this circumstance, it simply points to the fact that a drastic shift in society is often followed by others. 2020 has been a clear example of such a phenomenon. It is safe to say that 2020 has been a year where one shock often leads to another with little time to process the previous event. This year, as a contagion brings humanity to its knees, the cracks its passage leaves behind have now led to many widespread protests across the world that have one thing in common — they stand against what has become the norm. Be it corruption, nepotism, racism, sexism or the other constant 'evils' of society, the pandemic has brought on the desperation or anger that is needed for people to push against what they see as everyday injustice that has been normalised in various parts of the world. What's more, many of these protests are being led by a new generation, a generation that is likely to face the worse of the COVID fallout, a generation that now sees itself as being an integral part of the change they wish to see. The ongoing protests that were recently sparked in Thailand follow such a pattern. It started, as it usually does, with a broken promise. In this case, the promise to return Thailand to a state of functional democracy following the 2014 military coup. The recent elections were seen as a case point in malpractices and irregularities, with many believing that the military still holds an unbalanced amount of power within the nation. These dissatisfactions were amplified by the dissolution of the pro-democracy Future Forward party that was dissolved at the beginning of the year by court order. Naturally, protests were organised but these were a risky affair given that the memory of the brutal Thammasat University massacre is still fresh in the minds of those who wish to challenge authoritarianism in Thailand. Then came the pandemic and attention was shifted for the time being. But not for long. In June, reports emerged that a prominent pro-democracy activist had been abducted in Cambodia. The Government and Military in Thailand denied all involvement but given that he was the ninth such activist to go missing in recent years, it is hard to believe such a blanket refusal. But the true breaking point is the same as many other such agitations across the world — the strain of COVID related economical loss. With youth unemployment spiking, online anger was steadily directed against the Thai monarchy, an ostentatious symbol of opulence and wealth at a time when even the provision of daily basics is an uncertainty. It cannot be overstated that criticising the monarchy in Thailand is not the same as some sections of the British population questioning the continuing existence of the British monarchy. Thailand has one of the strictest lèse majesté laws in the world with a punishment of up to 15 years in prison for even making an indirect criticism of the monarchy. It is also known that the current Thai King is closer to an absolute leader than a true constitutional monarch. Since coming to power, he has consolidated both the wealth of the crown and the most important military units under his direct control. This has led to the concern that the monarchy is too close to the military and enjoys too much political influence.
Largely, the protests revolve around the dissolution of the current government and separation of the military from governance. A smaller portion of protestors has called for a curb to the power of the monarchy with cuts to the royal budget and end to the laws that forbid royal criticism being part of the demands. As of now, it must be noted that no one has called for an end to the monarchy, an otherwise popular institution in the country. Still, hundreds of royalists have now organised countermarches to protect the dignity and power of the Thai throne. For now, the Government has held back and has expressed that the King likewise has no intention of punishing the protestors. But an extended stalemate looks unlikely and the Government and the monarchy will eventually be forced to act as youth dissatisfaction is unlikely to abate any time soon given grim predictions of a global economic depression that may take years to end.