Thai Pro-Democracy Protesters Shot After Clashes With Police and Royalists Near Parliament Grounds
- Dozens of pro-democracy protesters were hurt during clashes with police and royalist counter-protesters Tuesday night.
- Protesters were demanding the removal of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha and are frustrated that lawmakers hadn’t voted on draft amendments to the constitution.
- Other demands included calls for widespread electoral reform as well as changes to Thailand’s notoriously draconian lese-majeste laws, which criminalize any speech about the royal family.
- Thailand’s current electoral system was set up after a coup d’etat in 2014, which led to a military-drafted constitution in 2017 that left the army with many executive and legislative powers.
- The system led Prayut, the leader of the 2014 coup, to retain the Prime Ministership in 2019, despite only getting about 24% of the votes.
Thai Protests Dramatically Escalate
Nearly 50 protesters were injured in Thailand Tuesday night after police used tear gas, water cannons, and allegedly fired shots into a demonstration attempting to enter Parliament grounds.
Police say they never fired any shots into the crowd, neither live ammunition nor rubber bullets, despite a viral video indicating they may have. Regardless, police promised to investigate the shooting.
Pro-democracy protesters, police, and royalist supporters clashed over draft constitutional amendments that Thai lawmakers agreed to debate between Tuesday and Wednesday.
Royalists say these changes to the constitution would undermine it and the stability the Thai military sought after initiating a coup d’etat in 2014. Pro-democracy protesters were frustrated both because the amendments don’t go far enough to address their concerns over the current electoral system and because lawmakers didn’t put any of the amendments to a vote last night.
The Party King of Thailand
At the heart of the protest are two issues: the monarchy and democracy itself.
In Thailand, the monarchy is generally well-liked and highly revered, with the royal court refusing to interfere with politics as it is ‘beneath’ them.
However, there are still things for Thais to criticize that they can’t because of extremely strict lese-majeste laws. These laws criminalize any speech about the royal family, particularly the king, with hefty fines and upwards of 15-years in prison.
To understand how strictly these laws are adhered to, take the story of the first wife to the current king, King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.
He sought a divorce, and she refused to agree to it, so he took her to court and blamed her for the dysfunctionality of the marriage. Because of the lese-majeste laws, she couldn’t defend herself as it would mean accusing the then-crown prince of doing something wrong, meaning she lost by default.
A dissolved marriage is hardly a rallying cry for protesters, but his other actions have led many Thais to say he debases the monarchy and is an embarrassment. In particular, King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun has a reputation as a partier and womanizer. He rarely spends time in Thailand, and in 2020 has spent just about 16 days in the country, despite widespread unrest and destabilization. He spends most of his time in Germany.
He has been married multiple times, not uncommon in traditional royal marriages as alliances with lords and dukes are reforged. However, that system of marriage hasn’t been necessary or used for about 100 years, since Thailand transformed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one.
Even so, the king has brought back another relic from Thailand’s royal past; a Royal Noble Consort. In the past, such a consort was another method (and form of polygamy) that allowed the royalty to retain alliances with important families in Thailand. His current consort isn’t generally disliked as a person herself, but the institution is considered backward in modern Thailand and a possible way for the king to assert his royal authority.
The Royal Noble Consort, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi –a former army officer– gained the role shortly after his coronation and just months after the king married Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana, another former army officer. Sineenat faced trouble at court, was exiled, and completely disappeared from the public eye, sparking rumors of imprisonment or death before reappearing in the king’s good graces in August 2020 and regaining her titles.
His treatment of the consort has led Thais to wish they could criticize such actions without facing severe jail time. On top of this, the king has been known to take photos that don’t look “kingly.” For example, he was filmed in Germany shopping in a crop top and was later photographed in Germany with Queen Suthida, before their marriage, in a short crop top and pants low sitting pants.
Is Thailand Democratic?
Despite the king’s antics, the fulcrum of the protests is really the issue of democracy in Thailand.
Currently, Thailand is ruled by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who protesters claim has an illegitimate hold on power and is incompetent.
Prayut is a former general and first came into power after he and the army staged a coup d’etat in 2014 after six months of political deadlock and tensions in the country. The army took over executive and legislative functions, and in 2017, they repealed almost all of the former constitution and made a new one.
In 2019, Thailand held elections for the first time since the coup, elections which were based on the 2017 constitution and decried as fundamentally undemocratic.
The 2017 Constitution, made by the military, changed how voting is done in Thailand. It made a system and gerrymandered maps that would heavily favor their preferred candidates. The system helped Prayut win the Prime Ministership with just under 24% of the votes and less than half of the seats in the House of Representatives.
Such a result was possible because the 2017 constitution still gives the military many overarching power, and part of that includes choosing all 250 members of the Senate. Those senators, along with the House’s representatives are who choose the Prime Minister, meaning that even though most Thais didn’t want Prayut in charge and his party didn’t hold the majority in the House, he was still the man who won.
This system has been the catalysts for the last five months of protests and calls for reform. Additionally, some groups also push for changes relating to education and LGBTQ+ rights.
Politicians are expected to continue debate over constitutional changes into Wednesday night. Any votes made won’t be confirmed until another vote a month from now, which gives times for lawmakers to reconsider and will likely sparking further protests.
Another possibility is that lawmakers set up a committee to draft a new constitution, which could take between months and a year. Such a move could sap the energy from pro-democracy protests as such committees often take between a month and a year to release a draft version.
See what others are saying: (DW) (Associated Press) (The Guardian)
95-Year-Old Woman Dies After Police Tases Her in Nursing Home
The officer involved was suspended with pay and charged with assault.
A 95-year-old Australian woman whom police tasered in a nursing home last week has reportedly died from her injuries.
Clare Nowland, who had dementia and required a walking frame to stand up and move, was living at the Yallambee Lodge in Cooma in southeastern Australia.
At about 4:15 a.m. on May 17, police and paramedics responded to a report of a woman standing outside her room with a steak knife.
They encountered Nowland, then reportedly tried to negotiate with her for several minutes, but she didn’t drop the knife.
The five-foot-two, 95-pound woman walked toward the two officers “at a slow pace,” police said at a news conference, so one of them tasered her.
She fell to the floor and reportedly suffered a fractured skull and a severe brain bleed, causing her to be hospitalized in critical condition.
Nowland passed away in a hospital surrounded by her family, the New South Wales police confirmed in a statement today.
After a week-long investigation, the police force also said that the senior constable involved would appear in court next week to face charges of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault.
NSW police procedure states that tasers should not be used against elderly or disabled people absent exceptional circumstances.
Following the incident, community members, activists, and disability rights advocates expressed bewilderment and anger at what they called an unnecessary use of force, and some are now questioning why law enforcement took so long to prosecute the officer involved.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The New York Times) (CNN)
U.K. Police Face Backlash After Arresting Anti-Monarchy Protesters
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that some of the arrests “raise questions” and “investigations are ongoing.”
The Public Order Act
A controversial protest crackdown law in the U.K. is facing criticism after dozens of anti-monarchy protesters were arrested during the coronation ceremony in London over the weekend.
The law, dubbed the “Public Order Act” was passed roughly a week ahead of the coronation for King Charles III. It gives police more power to restrict protesters and limits the tactics protesters can use in public spaces. It was condemned by human rights groups upon its passing, and is facing a new round of heat after 52 people were arrested over coronation protests on Saturday.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said protesters were arrested for public order offenses, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The group said it gave advance warning that its “tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low and that we would deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining the celebration.”
It is currently unclear how many of those arrested were detained specifically for violating the Public Order Act, however, some of those arrested believe the new law was used against them.
“Make no mistake. There is no longer a right to peaceful protest in the UK,” Graham Smith, the CEO of anti-monarchy group Republic tweeted after getting arrested. “I have been told many times the monarch is there to defend our freedoms. Now our freedoms are under attack in his name.”
An Attempt to “Diminish” Protests
During a BBC Radio interview, Smith also said he believes the dozens of arrests were premeditated.
“There was nothing that we did do that could possibly justify even being detained and arrested and held,” Smith claimed.
“The whole thing was a deliberate attempt to disrupt and diminish our protest.”
Yasmine Ahmed, the U.K. Director of Human Rights Watch, also tweeted that the arrests were “disgraceful.”
“These are scenes you’d expect to see in Russia not the UK,” she wrote.
When asked about the controversy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters officers should do “what they think is best” in an apparent show of support for the Metropolitan Police.
For his part, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he is looking into the matter.
“Some of the arrests made by police as part of the Coronation event raise questions and whilst investigations are ongoing, I’ve sought urgent clarity from Met leaders on the action taken,” Khan tweeted.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Foreign Nationals Make Mad Dash out of Sudan as Conflict Rages
The conflict’s death toll has surpassed 420, with nearly 4,000 people wounded.
As the 10-day-long power struggle between rival generals tore Sudan apart, foreign governments with citizens in the country scrambled to evacuate them over the weekend.
On Sunday, U.S. special forces landed in the capital Khartoum and carried out nearly 100 American diplomats along with their families and some foreign nationals on helicopters.
An estimated 16,000 Americans, however, remain in the country and U.S. officials said in a statement that a broader evacuation mission would be too dangerous.
Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity warfare, said in a statement that the Pentagon may assist U.S. citizens find safe routes out of Sudan.
“[The Defense Department] is at present considering actions that may include use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats,” he said.
Germany and France also reportedly pulled around 700 people out of the country.
More countries followed with similar efforts, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, China, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Indonesia.
Yesterday, a convoy carrying some 700 United Nations, NGO, and embassy staff drove to Port Sudan, a popular extraction point now that the airport in Khartoum has closed due to fighting.
Reports of gunmen prowling the capital streets and robbing people trying to escape, as well as looters breaking into abandoned homes and shops, have persuaded most residents to stay indoors.
Heavy gunfire, airstrikes, and artillery shelling have terrorized the city despite several proposed ceasefires.
Over the weekend, the reported death toll topped 420, with nearly 4,000 people injured, though both numbers are likely to be undercounted.