This week, host Muna Gasim and panellist Neema Jayasinghe speak with Chamnan Chanruang from the Future Forward party about the anti-monarchy protests ongoing in Thailand. Chanruang is also a former Political Science and Law lecturer at Chiang Mai University, and has a professional background as a human rights activist. He has taken a stand against coup d’états and was also a key driver in the movement to finalise the draft act for the Chiang Mai Self-Governing. He was previously appointed as the Chairperson of the Amnesty International Thailand Board.

I can say we have no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly, especially related to monarchy or related to the institutions.

Chamnan Chanruang

In 2020, anti-government protests erupted in Thailand after courts banned the Future Forward Party, the country’s most vocal party opposing the government of former junta leader Prayut Chan-ocha. Due to the coronavirus, protests saw a brief pause, but the movement resumed in mid-July. Protestors were pushing for Prayut’s removal, a new constitution, and an end to the harassment of activists. Some protesters went further with a list of ten demands to reform the monarchy – demands that were cheered by tens of thousands of people at a demonstration in September. Currently, nearly one year after emergency decree, more than 380 protesters (including 13 children) face criminal charges and alleged protest leaders remain in detention. 61 people face charges for defamatory comments about the monarchy and more large-scale protests are expected to be ongoing alongside the possibility of a charter rewrite with two referendums.

Many people committed suicide, they have no money, no food. This never happened before.

Chamnan Chanruang

Chanruang explains that power in Thailand is influenced by three main forces: businesses, politicians, and the monarchy, which wields military support. Due to rampant economic inequality, the Future Forward Party found vast support amongst the younger generations living in Thailand. The current protests differ from those in the past because of the specific focus on the Thai monarchal power structure – for example, it had long been customary for audience members in Thai cinemas to stand for the royal anthem before each show, but protestors have remained seated in protest.

In [the] long run they cannot, they cannot destroy… the demonstrations of the young generations.

Chamnan Chanruang

At the core of the unrest, Chanruang shares, is widespread economic inequality. Facing a lack of business opportunity in the face of monopolies, saddled with student debt, and without employment or income, Thailand’s younger generations are seeking reform. But the risk of persecution for dissent is high, and the criminal justice system remains intertwined with the interests of the ruling monarchy. Even from abroad, Chanruang says, the international community has an important role to play in putting pressure on the Thai government to respect and uphold human rights. This episode also features discussions of the interplay of regional politics, coronavirus vaccine equity, and the road ahead for the FFP.

People will win, but it takes time.

Chamnan Chanruang

Learn More

Chamnan Chanruang: Future Forward Party Biography

Read: Thailand protests: Why are Thai people protesting and what is the significance?