Perfect lessons leant from Thailand students union

There have been anti-government protests that have been largely dominated by the youth, the largest since the 2014 anti-government protests.

Perfect lessons leant from Thailand students union
High school students salute with three-fingers, a symbol of resistance during a protest rally in Bangkok, Thailand, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.

(The African Stand) — In the past few weeks now months, my attention has been drawn to the recent developments in Thailand, a constitutional monarch. There have been anti-government protests that have been largely dominated by the youth, the largest since the 2014 anti-government protests. This has prompted me to think of what we could learn, as youths and students from the actions of the courageous students in Thailand.

These protests are a reaction to the role of the monarch in the country. Reports have it that the head of state spends and has spent a considerable time in Germany according to the Daily Mail. This is despite the fact that his country/kingdom is struggling especially with the coronavirus pandemic. The monarch has been alleged to be tax ‘eaters’ by the protesters. The movement is calling for a systematic review and change if need be on the organisation and position of the monarch in the state operation.

The act of spending his time in Europe, Germany to be specific, as you would expect this has its own implications and the student leadership as well as a fraction of the political elite is crying foul of the same and is asking that the government resigns, the parliament is dissolved and the institution of a constitutional change process. This demonstrates how politically conscious the students are. Contextually, this can be attributed to the role of value-creating education. Question is are you aware of the political situation in your country? Or you are part of the political illiterate that perpetuates a clime of citizen incompetence?

The youth have taken charge of a number of reasons. In Twitter, some have argued that the elder people are afraid of speaking up against the government because of the implications of doing so. The youth have been left with nothing else but to take it to the streets in protest. This is born out of a clear understanding of their role in their dispensation just as Chinua Achebe puts it, “Every generation must recognise and embrace the task it is peculiarly designed by history and by providence to perform.”

Majorly, these have been university students, many in their summer break, engaging in what is seen as a taboo in their country. The consequences are dire for such actions as they are considered not only illegal but also under certain sections of their constitution derogatory behaviour that is met with punitive measures as people are taught to revere the monarchy that is elevated to the point of demigods. This explains the crackdown by the regime something that has raised concern with leading human rights groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.

This is an unprecedented, new phenomenon of political awakening, development in Thailand, stating the role of the youth in any political system. I would equate this to the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement which shares the same spirit and that is pioneered by the youth. In fact, Joshua Wong has expressed solidarity with the protest movement in Thailand which is a major morale boost for this audacious movement. However, the students have been on the wrong side of things with the police arbitrary arresting them and searching their residences before arraigning them with funny charges in the courts. There are abuses conducted by these instruments with a monopoly over violence something the student’s term as legal harassment which they want to end.

Student Activism

The students are at the centre of this political activism cum student activism. They are organizing protests with the aim of changing the political system landscape and the regime perhaps. This is a larger struggle for the future of the country’s political direction. As the youth ought to, the students are involved and are at the leading front. Remarkably, an article in the BBC observed how the students are leading the protests and risking it all.

As mentioned earlier, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. The demonstrations have been influenced by the absence of a democratic space hence the labelling of the student union as a pro-democracy movement. The prime minister who was the leader of the coup in 2014 was legitimized by the monarchy, a controversial move. Arguably, Thailand could be declared the Uganda of Asia having been plagued by military coups.

Pro-democracy groups have launched several anti-government peaceful protests. This has seen arrests of various student activists like Parit Chirawak. On the 14th of August 2020 Amnesty International Thailand called for the release of the student activists. This goes to show the role of student activism in agitating for democracy as a form of governance. The 21st-century demands for an expansive democratic space as enlightenment tradition suggests and as observed by Francis Fukuyama.

The student union of Thailand is agitating for political reform; this born out of the understanding of the reality they are faced with but also the agency to create a luminous future. Fundamentally, they are aggregating aggressively for a new constitution, the resignation of the government and an end to harassment of opposition by the police while aiming to topple the leadership of the country and reform the monarch. The youth ought to be pioneers of such happenings as the leaders of tomorrow.

Perfect lessons leant from Thailand students union

Media Leverage

These protests have largely been scaled up by the use of social media leverage. Social networks drive democracy through collective action. Mobilisation and organisation of the protests have been done online. This has been instrumental in the success of the protests. The internet has served as a critical platform despite its censoring by the government. This reminds me of the role of the internet in the Arab Spring.

These students are strategically using the media to highlight the situation, bring attention to the world through streaming of the protests and even some arrests. This is deliberate efforts directed towards sending a message to the monarch and the world at large. However, the monarch and by extension the government has not been able to stomach this. This has led to the censorship of the digital platforms as well as other media platforms.

Social media has played a critical role in the protests. From Twitter hashtags like #WhatsHappeningThailand to the protest streams on Facebook. This shows the influence the social media has in creating awareness, shaping narratives and changing behaviours and attitudes. The point here is that youths ought to leverage on the use of social media platforms which they dominate instead of using such for cyberbullying and sharing memes. Societal power dynamics are shifting to the youth given their comprehension of the digital space.

Shifting Status Quo

The protests which are mainly student-led, are an interesting phenomenon from a point of view of the establishment. The students engaging in the protests are challenging the status quo. The actions and demands of the anti-government protestors are critical of the government and the monarchy.

In the past, activists, who have been critical of the monarch and government, have been disappeared, both at home even in exile. According to the New York Times, some whose bodies were found, their bellies were or had been stuffed with concrete. The youths, at no point, should not cower or bind themselves with the shackles of fear instead they should strive for change.

The professions made by the students are seen as defaming the monarchy. In Thailand, and so is true about many governments world over, criticism of the royal family or the government is quashed with lethal force and leads to long prison sentences. Basically, the students are speaking truth to power. The youth who make the majority of the world population, are entitled to their constitutional right of freedom of speech and expression and they should be allowed to exercise this though with its limitations. Often than not they are faced with segregation from the mainstream state affairs as well as stern intolerance.

Non Violent Protest

The protests by the students have been without violence. This is quite remarkable and proves that there is an understanding of the power of non-violence, by principle, as is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Youths need to learn to embrace the political mobilisation that lacks any form of violence instead of being overwhelmed by the youthful elation. Peaceful non-violent practices should be a norm and salient characteristic of any youthful engagement with political implications. This is not to mean that when necessary they should not implore Frantz Fanon’s strategies.

The peaceful demonstrations have been a key facet and highlight of the Thailand protests. By having numerous non-violent demonstrations, the student union has demonstrated how feasible it is to conduct non-violent protests agitating for change. The violence has only been engaged by the instruments with a monopoly over violence.

Other Highlights

The role of women in leadership has been epitomised by the bold presentation of a ten-point stark manifesto by Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, a female student leader. This is a very bold statement to the establishment. It serves also as a reminder to women that regardless of their position in society, feminine stereotypes, it is practically possible to make a change in society.

The students in Thailand have shown us how we ought to exercise the freedom of assembly. This freedom has been used to agitate for political change in this case. Deductively, we can learn to use the various freedoms and rights to champion for justified societal courses with the aim of advancing our communities and improving the human condition.

This movement has received support from many universities and students in Thailand and has drummed up support for the same. Notably, solidarity messages have come from Joshua Wong, a leading activist in Hong Kong with the pro-democracy movement there. The human capital is enormous and is stirring hot political temperatures in Thailand. World-leading scholars and public intellectuals continue to offer a rationale for the movement by offering support for the movement.

Whether the protests will be successful or not remains to be seen. However, the conduct of the students union should be celebrated regardless. This kind of student activism is of age and asks of us to rethink the role of the youth in the political space and well as their position in the society.


Written by Joyce Namutosi

Joyce Namutosi is a Nairobi, Kenya based journalist with the local media and The Reporter newspaper. He has written for CNN, the Huffington Post, and The Globe and Mail in Canada.

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