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Protests in ThailandThe current pandemic wave hitting Thailand has resulted in a new wave of anti-government protests in the nation. These protests are a part of a pro-democracy movement within Thailand that has been active for several years. The current demonstrations are driven by spikes in both COVID-19 and poverty.

Background on the Pro-Democracy Movement

The protests in Thailand are part of a larger pro-democracy movement that has opposed the Prime Minister’s governance since he and the military overthrew the elected government in 2014. Sentiments regarding the power of the royals in Thai society also exist. Protests right before the pandemic often had tens of thousands attending. Some believe the constitution put into place in 2014 allows for greater military control over the Thai government. The current protests in Thailand have built off of earlier protests that opposed the Prime Minister’s governance.

Recent Surge in COVID-19

A recent surge in COVID-19 cases has hit the country. This has been a critical factor in the ongoing protests in Thailand. The overwhelming majority of Thailand’s COVID-19 cases are from the last few months. The Sinovac vaccine from China, which Thailand has relied on upon along with the AstraZeneca vaccine, carries concerns about lower effectiveness against the Delta variant.  More pressingly, only a relatively small portion of the country has been fully vaccinated as tens of millions of people await their turn.

The devastating impact of the pandemic on Thailand’s economy has driven many into poverty. As the outbreak of the Delta variant has rocked the country, many continue to suffer from the economic ramifications of the pandemic.  The economic shock of the pandemic on Thailand has been tremendous. Estimates show that 1.5 million Thais entered poverty in 2020 due to the pandemic. More than 8% of the country is living on less than $5.50 a day, which only contributes to the unrest felt in the country. The devastation of the tourism industry by the pandemic has been a crippling blow to the Thai economy. The industry generates tens of billions of dollars in revenue a year and is among the world’s most profitable tourist industries. In 2018, the World Bank estimated that tourism made up about 20% of Thailand’s GDP.

Vaccination rates within Thailand combined with surges in the Delta variant have made it extremely difficult for Thailand to fully reopen this critical industry. Priorities to alleviate economic pain include “[i]mprovements in employment, productivity and labour incomes, especially among the poor.” There have few “effective government schemes” to assist Thais who have lost their jobs in industries like tourism crippled by pandemic measures. Additionally, there are some indications that homelessness has skyrocketed in cities around Thailand.

Demands of Protesters

The connection between growing poverty, the Delta variant and the protests in Thailand is evident when looking at protesters’ demands. At the start of August, more than a thousand protesters gathered in Bangkok. Police used “water cannon[s], tear gas and rubber bullets to stop a march toward Government House, the office of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha.” The protesters marched with purpose; calls have risen for the Prime Minister to step down due to a lack of vaccines and jobs.

The pandemic has forced many Thais into poverty, and many have lost their homes and incomes. In addition, critical industries such as tourism have been frozen due to the pandemic, depriving Thailand of revenue and jobs. The recent surge in the Delta variant is made worse by the lack of effective vaccines in the country. In response, Thais are taking to the streets to demand the Prime Minister step down due to his mishandling of the twin crises of poverty and COVID-19.

– Coulter Layden
Photo: Flickr

Protests in Thailand
Since February 2020, protests in Thailand have been underway calling for a restructuring of the Thai monarchy and demanding that King Maha Vajiralongkorn relinquish his assets to the people. Thailand performs well in many areas that are criteria for consideration as a developed country, including the enrollment of school-aged children and access to water and sanitation. However, the nation suffers from a severe discrepancy in income distribution. Now, four years after the King has taken the throne, the Thai people are calling attention to the country’s struggles with inequality and poverty.

The Many and the Few

With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing the world’s economy to a screeching halt, including shutdowns and travel bans, Thailand’s tourism industry crashed. Since then, poverty has skyrocketed. Meanwhile, Thailand’s high society can do most anything inconsequentially – the monarchy more than anyone else.

Most of Thailand’s elite are highly educated citizens living in the capital city, Bangkok. With Thailand’s long and frequent history of coups, there is widespread distrust surrounding politics and the government. However, the elite has historically leveraged its wealth to preserve its own interests, disregarding the needs of the majority.

Two student groups galvanized anti-governmental support that spurred the 2020 protests in Thailand. The protestors, most of them young, called for change and openly criticized the monarchy. This cry for reform mobilized tens of thousands of protestors to rally in support of the demands made against the crown.

Among the demands made, which included legal equality for all and the un-dissolution of the Future Forward Party, the people also criticized the monarchy’s handling of the pandemic. Despite Thailand’s success in stanching outbreaks of new infections, subsequent economic devastation plunged middle-class and poor populations deeper into poverty. This undid much of the progress that Thailand’s poverty-mitigating measures made in the past few decades.

Thailand’s Fortune

Thailand garnered most of its existing fortune during the 20th century through real-estate holdings, maintaining an estimated 40,000 rental contracts. All of this adds up to over 16,210 acres of land across Thailand.

In 1948, Thailand began declaring its assets the property of the Thai people. The Crown Property Bureau (CPB) managed these assets for the next 70 years. However, in 2018, Thailand’s courts then declared these assets to be directly under the control of the King. The protests in Thailand stem from the skepticism of this approach. King Vajiralongkorn, who has ruled since 2016, has been deeply unpopular and controversial throughout his reign. He succeeded his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who many saw as a man of the people. Thailand’s current struggle with poverty, and the monarchy’s inability to alleviate the situation, has exacerbated the contrast between the two kings. Poverty and the pandemic have called citizens’ attention to the role that the monarchy plays in Thailand’s economy and thus the role it plays in the struggles of the people.

Give2Asia

The protests in Thailand have called attention to what many NGOs have been working toward alleviating for many years. Since 2001, Give2Asia, a San Francisco-based NGO that works in 23 countries, has helped 2,500 charities attain more than $342 million in grants to carry out their missions. The organization focuses on empowering individuals and teaching vocational skills to women and children.

In Thailand, Give2Asia is partnering with several organizations and foundations to provide medical supplies in response to the pandemic. The country’s handling of the pandemic is a major grievance that the 2020 protests in Thailand are attempting to highlight.

Give2Asia and its partner groups also circulate information regarding the prevention and control of COVID-19 in the most vulnerable populations. They do this by distributing information in an easy-to-understand format and by providing care kits for elderly, orphaned and disabled people. Raks Thai, while furthering Give2Asia’s initiatives in empowering women, also offers support for migrant workers and their families by offering vocational training workshops and supplementing income.

Efforts like those above call attention to the protests in Thailand and the challenges the nation will face moving forward. Hopefully, through continued efforts, Thailand will be able to reach a higher level of equality in the future.

Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr