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Thailand

Thais tell prime minister 'enough is enough'

More Thais are calling on Prayut Chan-o-cha to leave as Covid cases rise and the economy reels

Benjamin Freeman, Bangkok

Benjamin Freeman, Bangkok

Published: July 12, 2021 09:36 AM GMT

Updated: July 12, 2021 09:44 AM GMT

Thais tell prime minister 'enough is enough'

Hospital workers carry a coffin with the body of a woman who died from Covid-19 at Ban Yakang cemetery in the southern province of Narathiwat  on July 11 as Thailand faces a surge in cases of the virus. (Photo: AFP)

Thailand’s prime minister and his military-allied regime appear to have worn out their welcome after seven years in power as more and more Thais call on them to give up power.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a mercurial former army chief who seized power in a military coup at the head of a repressive junta in May 2014, has never been particularly popular with democratically minded Thais, especially the young.

Yet he has seen his popularity plummet even further in recent months as a raging outbreak of Covid-19 and the inability of his government to contain it have battered Thailand’s economy and plunged millions of people into dire poverty after months-long lockdowns even as scores of Thais keep dying of the disease daily.

The latest anti-government mass rally took place in Bangkok on July 10 and saw a large crowd of people join a so-called “car mob” during which protesters drove around the streets of the capital in their cars and on their motorcycles, honking horns and displaying signs with anti-regime messages.

“General Prayut claimed the country had been in crisis so he had no choice but to stage a coup [in 2014],” Sombat Boonngam-anong, a prominent democracy activist and philanthropist, said during a stopover at a major intersection in central Bangkok.

“He promised he would not stay long. But seven years have passed and we wonder whether he has a clock in his house. Now it’s clear the one who instigated an unprecedented crisis is General Prayut himself.” 

Among several complaints, commenters have been blaming Prayut’s administration for an uncontrolled outbreak of Covid-19

The protest caravan also stopped by the headquarters of two political parties that are junior members of Prayut’s governing coalition, calling on them to ditch their alliance with the prime minister’s military-allied party, Palang Pracharath.

Prayut’s party is led by Deputy Agriculture Minister Thamanat Prompow, a politician with a shady past who was convicted and imprisoned in Australia in the 1990s for heroin trafficking. At the headquarters of Palang Pracharath, the protesters dumped flour in a reference to Thamanat’s conviction on drug-related charges.

Thailand’s latest constitution, which was drafted by the military after the coup of 2014, makes it illegal for any citizen with a criminal past to hold office. Yet in a curious decision, the Constitutional Court recently ruled that this law did not apply to Thamanat because he was convicted of a crime abroad and not on Thai soil.

The ruling has further inflamed popular sentiments against Prayut’s regime among democratically inclined Thais, large numbers of whom have expressed support on social media for anti-government rallies in recent weeks.

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Among several complaints, commenters have been blaming Prayut’s administration for an uncontrolled outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen the rate of infections soar with some 10,000 new cases daily and a mounting death toll.

It hasn’t helped Prayut’s image that intermittent and haphazardly executed lockdowns ordered by his administration have failed to contain the outbreak of Covid-19 even as these measures have further devastated the economy, especially affecting small businesses, many of which have gone into bankruptcy.

At the same time, a mass vaccination drive, which was launched after repeated delays early last month, has been mired in controversy with a chronic shortage of doses.

To date, fewer than 5 percent of people in a country of 69 million have been fully vaccinated and Prayut’s administration has been credibly accused of willfully holding up the large-scale procurement of vaccines by having refused until recently to allow private hospitals to obtain vaccines on their own in the face of the government’s manifest inability to provide jabs for all those that need them.

Fueling further discontent has been the fact that economically disadvantaged people, including the elderly and those with several underlying conditions, have had limited access to vaccines, even as many well-off people are alleged to have used their connections to jump ahead in the queue of people waiting to be vaccinated.

The Thai government’s incompetence has not escaped international notice. In a new global survey of 120 countries by the Japanese financial newspaper Nikkei Asia regarding how governments have dealt with the Covid-19, Thailand has been ranked near the bottom, at 118th place.

Never in living memory have Thais suffered as much as they are right now

Not surprisingly, owing to its perceived incompetence in handling the outbreak, more and more Thais want Prayut and his government finally gone. In a petition launched on Change.org, an alliance of pro-democracy groups has started gathering signatures with the aim of rallying support among members of parliament against the former army chief and his administration.

“Never in living memory have Thais suffered as much as they are right now,” they say in their petition.

“We hope MPs of all coalition parties love democracy enough to leave the grip of the current regime and switch sides to stand with the people.” 

Whether such popular petitions will have any effect on notoriously self-serving Thai politicians remains to be seen, but the message they send is loud and clear.

An anonymous commentator has aptly summarized the popular sentiment in an open letter published in the Thai Inquirer and addressed to Thailand’s prime minister.

“You took power by force and took our voices away from us and gave it to drug dealers and corrupt generals including your brother,” the commentator said.

“Your deputy prime minister sleeps through important meetings, the people you have chosen to surround yourself with are unable to offer you frank advice or tell you the truth. You have people around you too scared to tell you how poor a job you are doing. And this was before the pandemic hit. 

“Now during a time of national emergency, you have proven incapable of making the right decisions and being brave enough to do what is good for the country. You are killing the people you serve and hurting the country you say that you love.  Mr Prime Minister, it is time for you to resign.”

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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