Thai protest movement refuses to back down

Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul
·2-min read

One of Thailand's top pro-democracy leaders insists the student-led movement will not back down from its most controversial demand, that the country's monarchy undergo reforms.

Lawyer Arnon Nampha has also told followers outside Bangkok Remand Prison of a planned demonstration in front of parliament if constitutional change they seek is not approved by mid-November.

"When Parliament opens and if they do not pass the draft amendment of the constitution, we will close parliament with our own hands," he said on Wednesday.

The movement wants Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down, the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic and the monarchy reformed to make its activities more accountable.

Protesters have been holding almost daily rallies around the country, some attracting upwards of 10,000 people.

Arnon spoke to more than 100 supporters outside the prison after he and three other protest leaders were freed from custody when a court refused to extend their detention, as requested by police.

Police have filed dozens of charges against them ranging from illegal use of a loudspeaker in public to sedition. Most have been in and out of jail several times.

Arnon said the movement will insist on its three demands and even if it compromises on the prime minister's resignation and amending the constitution, it will stick to the third concerning the monarchy.

The protesters believe the monarchy wields too much power but to royalists it is a untouchable institution that is the heart and soul of the nation.

Public criticism of it is unprecedented and a lese majeste law makes defaming the monarch and his immediate family punishable by up to 15 years' imprisonment.

Counter-demonstrations that have sprung up in reaction to the pro-democracy movement declare they are defending the monarchy.

In recent rare appearances, King Maha Vajiralongkorn and other royal family members have reinforced royalist passions with walking tours that take them face-to-face with adoring members of the public.

The government has urged "unity" as a way of easing the political crisis but there are fears that polarisation could foster violence.