Thousands gathered at Ratchaprasong on 18 November to protest the authorities’ use of force against protestors the day before and the parliamentary vote to reject in its first reading the constitutional amendment draft proposed by iLaw and backed by over 90,000 voters.
Only 2 out of 7 draft amendments passed the first reading: the one by the government coalition and one of those by the opposition, both to amend Section 256 allowing the establishment of a Constitution Drafting Assembly.
Prachatai spoke to some of the protesters at Ratchaprasong, most of whom said they would like to see the country changing for the better.
Nugul Ratiyapinun was at the 17 November protest near the parliament compound, during which he was tear-gassed, but still came to the protest at Ratchaprasong the next day.
“I want to see the people accept change in the country. Most of the people must live with the reality that the world has changed now in terms of economics and communications. Thailand should adapt too. The constitution should truly grant the rights and freedoms of the people, [as a full-fledged democracy, not a half-fledged one as it currently is,” Nugul said.
He also said that the appointment of 250 senators by a junta-appointed commission, plus the regulation that a third of them must approve the first reading of the amendments showed that the minority has more power than the majority, which made him feel that Thai democracy is not democratic.
The highland youngsters for democracy group
A group of three men who called themselves “highland youngsters for democracy” was also at the protest. They said that they came from a Pga K’nyau ethnic community (also known as Karen) in Tak Province and said they would like to see more change, as the conditions around their community are severely underdeveloped.
“We came to protest. We would like a new prime minister, because Prayut didn’t come into office legitimately. He recruited the 250 senators himself, he chose them himself, and then the senators elected him as prime minister,” one of the group said.
Another member of the group said that he is studying at Ramkhamhaeng University and was following the parliamentary discussion on the draft constitutional amendments. He said he was angry that parliament did not approve of the draft that was backed by the people, and because of the use of violence against protesters on 18 November, so he decided to join the Ratchaprasong protest.
“[The 2017 constitution] truly did not come from the people. It’s some unknown power. If it stays this way, it’s not going to end,” said one member of the group.
The trio said that they would like to see the protesters’ three demands become reality so that there can be improvements to the country, such as a better universal healthcare programme, and that if the three demands come true, the country will definitely be changed for the better.
In front of the police headquarters, P., 15, was standing with the group of protesters shouting at the police officers. She said that she was angry with the authorities for their use of force against the protesters on 17 November, even though she was not there.
“I was very angry that they did this. We are the owners of the country. This country is not their country as they say, but what they are doing is a great insult to us. We are out here to demand our rights in proposing constitutional amendments,” P. said.
“But look at what they did to us. Water cannon. Loudspeaker trucks. Batons. Shields. Personally, I think it’s not fair. If you want to be democratic, but you have no justice, then you shouldn’t call yourself democratic, but we’re a dictatorship right now.
“Right now I’m in Mathayom 4 (Year 10). In 6 years, I will finish 4th year (of university). I have to find a job. If he stays for another 2 - 3 years, that has to have an effect until when I’m working. I will not accept a life without getting what I should get. The tax I pay is not what I deserve. I feel that I have to come out to demand my rights. My friends, my younger siblings, or my children in the future should have a better life than this.”
As she is not yet 18, P. is too young to sign her support for the constitutional amendments proposed by iLaw, but she said that the current constitution is not fair to the people and written in favour of those in power instead of for the people. She said she feels that the iLaw constitutional amendment draft would work better, as it is written by the people.
P. is a student in a private school and said that she has never gone to a public school, but she said that she has a cousin in a public school and realised that she and her cousin are studying very different things. She said she wondered why they don’t get to study the same things, even though they are in the same country.
She said that even the Education Minister is sending his children overseas, and asked how she could believe in the system when even the Minister himself doesn’t believe in it.
P. asked us not to show her face, as she is worried that her mother will scold her for joining the protest. She said that her mother feels that the protests are dangerous, and that her grandfather supports the Prime Minister.
She said that she cannot tell her family members, except for her father, that she is joining the protest, even though she thinks that anyone joining the protest should let someone know because it would be safer.
When asked if she agrees more with her father when it comes to politics, P. said yes. She said that her father once joined the PDRC protest and felt that he is part of the reason why young people have to protest now, and that his daughter is doing the right thing in joining the protest.
“My father said that, in the end, the person who has to make a life is me, not him, so it is my right to come out or not to come out to call for my rights,” she said.
P. told us that she tried to explain to her mother, who is worried about her safety, that she is going to benefit from the constitutional amendments, that she is going to have a better life. She said that her mother tries to understand, and that her mother supports the pro-democracy movement but does not see good things about coming to the protests.
“Yesterday, she saw violence, so I tried to explain to her that we weren’t violent. The other side was violent. She said that in any event it’s violent and that if I go, it’s still dangerous. She’s okay with me supporting this side, but she’s just not okay with going to protests,” P. said.
Meanwhile, children’s rights and welfare advocates were seen stationed in front of Central World, where they formed a group called “children in the mob” to spread information about children’s rights, statistics about children and young people affected by protest crackdowns, and how to take care of children in protests.
Ruangthap Kaeokaemchan, a member of the group, said they held this activity to inform the protesters about safe spots for children for first aid in the protest as well as the way to take care of them if a crackdown took place.
She said the right to political expression is a child’s right. Children should be protected from the time they arrive at the protest until the time that they return home. Unlike in other countries, protests in Thailand have never been safe enough for children to join. The authorities should not respond to a peaceful movement by violence.
“We are not saying that we invite the children to protests. But we are saying what you should have in mind when you come to a protest. And safety is an important thing to be aware of. Parents or the leading figures must also be aware. But the venues of protests in Thailand have never been made safe at all.” said Ruangthap.