Protesters in Thailand make their presence felt in the capital Bangkok seeking reforms.

Thailand has once again grabbed headlines with the country’s prime minister declaring a “severe” state of emergency in a bid to quell growing protests.

The emergency measures follow protests demanding reform of the country’s powerful monarchy and the opening up of society.

So what are the protests about?

Headed by 23-year-old Panupong Jadnok, the protests have adopted the now famous three-finger salute to symbolise their movement.

The protesters are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha who was previously the chief of the army.

Chan-ocha seized power in a coup in 2014 after which he was appointed as prime minister in elections in contested circumstances in 2019.

As the protests have grown this year there have also been calls to restrain the power of the monarchy and that of King Vajiralongkorn.

The flamboyant monarch who now spends most of his time outside the country created a vast slush fund called the Crown property bureau, immediately after taking power in 2016. He would now personally oversee the wealth of the crown.

The amount? A cool $70 billion.

Protesters, however, think that there should be more oversight of these assets arguing that they also belong to the public.

In August, students at Thammasat University demanded that there be public oversight of the king's assets.

The calls by protesters directing some of their ire at the king is particularly sensitive, particularly in a country where criticism of the monarch can be punishable by a stint in prison.

King Vajiralongkorn now spends most of his time outside of the country, particularly in Germany amongst women in a hotel. The king's image as a playboy who has already been through several marriages is unlikely to go down well in a country mired in an economic crisis made worse by the global pandemic.

State reaction

As the protests grow, the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has sought to clamp down.

Immediately following the announcement for the state of emergency, the government announced that 20 people were arrested.

Three protest leaders have already been arrested: human rights lawyer Anon Nampa, student activist Parit Chiwarak and fellow pro-democracy activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul.

A video on facebook appeared to show Panusaya being arrested at a hotel as a soldier reads out the charges while fellow activists chanted slogans of support in the background.

Panusaya has become one of the leading faces of the protest movement, in particular, after reading out a 10-point plan that would also have seen reforms of the monarchy. Demands that could now land her in prison with a lengthy prison sentence.

The impetus behind the state of emergency seems to have been, according to the government, when protesters raised a three-finger salute as the Queen’s motorcade made its way through the streets.

The government has accused protesters of "chaos and incitement of conflict and public disorder" and “obstruction to the royal motorcade."

What next for the country

In a country where the king is revered, the protesters' demands have been bold in their undertaking. The country has been here before and the monarchy and the military have survived attempts at reform.

But the ongoing persistence of protesters is a clear indication that arrests alone won't be enough, a political compromise is necessary if the country is to move forward.

The reform agenda has broken a social taboo which becomes more easily digestible for a king that is missing in action.

As the country struggles with political deadlock and a lack of tourism receipts, calls for political change are likely to grow louder. 

Source: TRT World