KHON KAEN – Amid calls for snap elections and the drafting of a new constitution, protesters gathered at Khon Kaen University (KKU) on Saturday evening. It was the second time that students and members of the public came out to protest following the dissolution of a major opposition party last month. Organizers blamed the hot weather and fear of the COVID-19 virus for the much lower turnout compared to a previous event that drew over 1,000 people.
A few hundred people joined the protest at the university’s Faculty of Law. The event under the name, “KKU Has Had Enough #2,” included a display of previous constitutions, protest speeches, and a concert by former political prisoner Molam Bank and the anti-military band Rap Against Dictatorship.
The student group who organized the protest put forward three demands to the government: 1) draft a new constitution with people’s participation, 2) dissolve parliament and organize new elections, and 3) abolish the powers of the appointed senate.
“The end goal is for the government to dissolve parliament and organize new elections under fair conditions,” one male protester who asked to remain anonymous told The Isaan Record. “The current prime minister and the cabinet came to power through illegitimate means and they are failing to properly govern [the country] in many ways.”
The 2017 constitution was drafted by a military-appointed committee and passed in a controversial referendum in August 2016. While the draft passed with 61 percent nationwide, it was rejected in the Northeast by a slight majority of 51 percent. The charter has been most criticized for establishing a non-elected senate with the power to join the house of representatives in voting in the prime minister. Last year, General Prayut Chan-ocha became prime minister with the support of all 250 appointed senators.
A group of older citizens joined the crowd of mostly university students to express their dissatisfaction with the government of General Prayut Chan-ocha.
“I am here today because I love and I want democracy,” said Chamnian Bunsuk, a 75-year old Khon Kaen local. “I want democracy and justice to return to the country so that everyone can have a good life.”
Chamnian said “whenever there’s a protest, you’ll find me there.” She had just returned from a demonstration against the dissolution of the Future Forward Party (FFP) in Bangkok. Herself a supporter of the Pheu Thai Party, she joined the protests because the ban of the opposition party has left her worried about the country’s future.
On February 21, the Constitutional Court ruled to dissolve FFP and ban its executives from politics for ten years over a loan of 191 million baht (about $6 million USD) made by party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit to the party that was deemed illegal. The ruling sparked a wave of student protests at universities across the country.
One of the largest protests was held at KKU on 26 February drawing a crowd of over 1,000 people including students and staff of the university.
The turnout of protesters on Saturday was lower than expected said political activist Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, or Pai Dao Din, who has been supporting the student organizers since the first demonstration last month.
The first event drew a large crowd because it provided an outlet for people’s anger over the dissolution of FFP, Jatupat said.
FFP candidate Thitinan Saengnak landed a surprise victory in the election last year in Khon Kaen’s Constituency 1 that includes KKU and several other educational institutions.
“Going forward, we need to continue pushing for the next level and come up with messages that draw in the new generation and give them a space to express themselves more,” Jatupat says. “I don’t think the new generation will stop until they can have a better life and a better future.”
Reporting by Hathairat Phaholtap and Yodsapon Kerdviboon