Causes of this polarisation range from political openness in the 1990s, and a growing economy that has empowered divergent political actors and challenged the national ideology, resulting in elites’ hegemony being eroded. These factors have culminated in an escalation of protracted conflict over governmental legitimacy. In this conflict, mass demonstrations have been instrumental to the tit-for-tat overthrow of governments backed by either Red or Yellow Shirts as evident in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2013-14. Observably, Yellow Shirt demonstrators usually call for military coup to end their opponent’s rule, and in 2006 and 2014 the army responded to such a call through intervention. In 2014 in particular, the army justified its intervention by associating violent attacks against Yellow Shirt protesters with an imminent outbreak of civil war.
Anti-junta activism: sandwiches, salutes and reciting '1984'
Students also formed a coalition with human rights lawyers, artists and writers, under the name ‘Citizen Resistant’. On Valentine’s Day, they staged the street performance ‘My Dear/Stolen Election’. This involved an activist placing a ballot box on the street. As expected, the secret police stationed in the area swiftly took it away, reflecting the junta’s hyper-anxiety over anything related to democracy. After being charged for staging this nonviolent activity, members of ‘Citizen Resistant’ marched to a police station, giving themselves in, and at the same time filed a lawsuit against coup makers for their constitutional seizure of power.
At times, individuals’ courageous acts of defiance inspire further anti-regime activities of students. Their symbolic protests include holding a banner that reads ‘No Coup,’ shouting ‘I’m so embarrassed that Thailand still has military coup!,’ and wearing masks emblazoned with the message ‘People.’ A group of citizens also came up with the idea of reading George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984 at monorail stations to demonstrate the current state of censorship and surveillance in Thailand.
Repression and double-speak
Double-speak has become a common practice camouflaging the harshness of repression. The junta uses terms such as ‘attitude adjustment’ to refer to to arbitrary detention, ‘national harmony’ to refer to the suppression of dissidence and ‘returning happiness to the people’ to refer to unconstitutional seizure of power. This propaganda aims at portraying the junta as a national security defender in contrast to democracy advocates’ image as troublemakers in the process to save Thailand from the brink of civil war.
Successes of nonviolent action?
But if the criteria is the extent to which these pro-democracy networks have sustained hope for better days in Thailand, I would say yes. Yes, they succeeded in reminding us day in and day out that the struggle for democracy continues relentlessly. Because democracy is hard to earn given existing political structure in Thailand, we – the people – are carving out a new political imagination where nonviolence, freedom, and tolerance towards differences will constitute the foundation of our political culture. Anti-regime activism in Thailand not only denotes resistance against the incumbent junta, but it is projecting a trajectory of political future for the next generation to come.