A pro-democracy group gathered at Democracy Monument in Bangkok before dawn yesterday to read aloud the declaration made at the very same time by the revolutionaries who turned Thailand into a constitutional monarchy on June 24, 1932.
Many other groups in the capital and a dozen other provinces held similar gatherings throughout the day, broadcasting or reading the same declaration made by the People’s Party, a group of civilian bureaucrats and military officers, 88 years ago.
But it was more than just an observance of the end of absolute monarchy. Unlike past anniversaries of the bloodless revolution, this year’s commemoration was widespread – not contained among a few, and on occasion turned into peaceful anti-government protests calling for more democracy and power to the people.
“We held the event at Democracy Monument because it is one of a few remaining legacies of the People’s Party,” said human rights lawyer Anon Nampa.
A number of sites and objects memorialising the People’s Party had been removed or replaced in recent years. The most prominent – one that sparked calls for answers – was a brass plaque embedded in the tarmac in the Royal Plaza in Bangkok, marking regime change.
In April 2017, it was found to have been replaced by one bearing a royalist slogan. No explanation had been given. For some time, the site was barricaded after the news of the replacement became known while public discussions were shut down.
Chanting “Prayut, get out” and “Prawit, get out” – referring to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan – anti-government protesters took the opportunity to demand changes. In particular, they called for amendments to the 2016 military-drafted constitution.
This had paved the way for extended military influence beyond the general election last year, through the junta-appointed Senate that voted in Mr Prayut, who led the 2014 coup, for a second term and possibly beyond.
Yesterday, Mr Prayut insisted that Thailand is a democracy, while the army hosted a ceremony honouring two generals who revolted unsuccessfully against the People’s Party, the first event of its kind.
The pro-democracy group that gathered in front of the Parliament demanded that June 24 be made national day again.
The day was made national day in 1939 before the government changed it in 1960 to Dec 5, the birthday of the late king Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Yesterday’s gatherings were sparked by “the understanding among the people who fight for democracy that Thailand’s political development is backsliding to the past”, said Dr Prajak Kongkirati, a political science professor at Thammasat University. “For democratic supporters and the young generation, the idea of the 1932 revolution that the nation should belong to the people, not the tiny group of unaccountable elite, is a very significant idea worth fighting for.”
Even after last year’s election, critics say democracy has not been functioning fully.
The dissolution of anti-military Future Forward Party in February triggered an unprecedented wave of anti-government protests among university and high school students.
Dr Paul Chambers, a political scientist at Naresuan University and an expert on the Thai military, said: “Democracy has been moving backwards since 1947. The period from 1946 to 1947 was when Thailand had its greatest democracy because at that point, the monarchy and the military were simultaneously weak, while civilian democracy was strong.
“The difference between 1932 and today is that now many Thais at more of a mass level are clamouring for political space than ever before.”