Government House protest demands PM’s resignation over pandemic mishandling

A protest was held next to the Government House on Friday (2 July) demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha for the government’s mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic and failure in sourcing effective vaccines.

Protesters setting up a stall on Pitsanulok Road

The protest began at 16.30 at the Uruphong intersection, before protesters marched to gather on Phitsanulok Road by Government House, and concluded at around 22.00.

Several protest leaders and industry representatives gave speeches during the protest criticizing the government’s mishandling of the pandemic, including the lockdown measures which cause loss of employment and income for workers in many industries, the government aid programmes which not everyone can access, and the failure to provide the public with effective vaccines.

Ray giving a speech

Ray, a representative of the delivery riders’ union, spoke about the issues faced by delivery platform workers, who are not protected by labour law.

Ray said that delivery riders often do not have benefits if they cannot reach the required number of jobs, and while the platforms claimed that the riders are independent workers, riders are often made to buy jackets and delivery boxes. They could also be logged out of the platform if they violate platform requirements.

“Everyone is a worker, whether you work in an office, in construction, as a labourer, or whatever. We are all workers who move the country forward,” Ray said.

Gender equality and sex workers’ rights activist Sirisak Chaited also spoke about the effect of the Covid-19 lockdown measures on sex workers, who are already without benefits or protection and have not been receiving assistance from the government, while filing forms to register for aid programmes could lead to a sting operation.

Sirisak said that 30-40% of women in sex work are the main breadwinners in their family, but the closure of entertainment establishments during the Covid-19 lockdown cost them income and, as a result, they are in debt. Many also have to find work in other industries.

Sirisak added that, on 29 July, a group of workers from massage parlour, bars, and karaoke parlours went to Government House to petition for government assistance, and if their demands are not met, they will return to Government House and will be hanging condoms from the gates.

The body bag-like figures hanging from an overpass. A message on the figure says "Do you hear us?" 

During the protest, a group of protesters also hung several body bag-like figures from a nearby overpass to represent those who committed suicide after the government’s lockdown measures cost them their jobs and businesses.

Meanwhile, the organisers also called for businesses affected by the Covid-19 lockdown measures to set up stalls in the protest area to express their discontent about the government’s measures and to earn some income for their businesses. Musicians affected by the closure of entertainment and nightlife establishments also came to perform at the protest. 

Narongrit Ittipolnavakul

Narongrit Ittipolnavakul, a member of the postrock band Hope the Flower, came to sell CDs at the protest. He said that when the band released an album during the early days of the pandemic, they received some responses from the international audience, and they were able to return to performing this year when the lockdown was briefly lifted. Narongrit said he was able to save up enough money from performing to open his own café, but as the current round of lockdown continues, his performance bookings were being cancelled one by one.

Narongrit said that his band members now have to find full-time jobs, and he is now selling second-hand goods and working as a delivery rider. He said that he felt he has no choice, because there is no vaccine available that is good enough to rebuild public confidence so that concerts can once again be held and restaurants can once again be opened, and most of the band’s income came from live performances at bars, concerts, and music festivals.

“It’s like the band I’ve worked on has been frozen. Everything I’ve done stopped because I couldn’t find a job and I couldn’t make money,” he said.

Narongrit said that Thai independent musicians often make a living performing in bars. Once these establishments were closed, musicians stopped being booked for performances, and people are no longer buying band merchandise as the economy declines.

For Narongrit, musicians are part of the movement, since they can act as a mouthpiece. He himself has been joining protests since the 2014 military coup, and has written songs with political content. He said that if musicians take a stand, their fans will know that the musicians themselves are also aware of the issues in the society.

“I want big groups or bands that perform at night or in bars to take to the streets. It’s also good to fight head-on like this, Narongrit said.

Butter UP Café's staff at their stall during the protest

The coffee shop Butter UP Café also came to set up a stall at the protest. Benz, the owner, said that the coffee shop has been running for five years and now has two locations. He said that since the start of the pandemic, they have been selling through delivery platforms like Line or Grab Food, but did not make enough to cover the costs as they also have to pay the platforms. He also said that the lockdown caused issues with stock management, as well as affecting sales and salaries, so he has had to come up with promotions to keep the shop afloat.

Benz said that he has been to protests before, since he supported the movement’s demands, but this is the first time setting up a stall at a protest. He said that he wasn’t expecting to make a lot of money, but hoped to make enough to pay his employees, but they came because they wanted the government to resign. Benz said that the government is not really trying to solve the problems people are facing, and has not been listening to business owners.

“[Each of my employees] have the same political viewpoint, so I don’t feel any hesitation in coming. I’m lucky that my partner and over 10 employees believe in the same thing, so we’re happy to come here,” said Benz.

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