BANGKOK: Thousands of people joined Bangkok’s biggest protest since a 2014 coup, after authorities in Thailand moved to ban a party that has rallied opposition to the government of former military ruler Prayut Chan-ocha.
Yesterday’s demonstration, called upon by Future Forward Party (FFP) leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a 41-year-old billionaire, revived memories of street protest that roiled Bangkok periodically over the past two decades of turbulent politics.
He issued a call on Facebook and Twitter on Friday, which was shared more than 60,000 times, urging supporters who can “no longer tolerate the current social conditions” to take part in the rally.
Prayut rebuked Thanathorn’s call, saying the opposition leader’s disputes were “personal” and “not other people’s problems”.
But Thanathorn hit back yesterday, saying that the “flash mob” rally is being held for the country’s collective future.
“Those who brought politics to this point and caused conflicts are the people who cling onto power, ” he told reporters at a Bangkok university.
Under junta rule, which followed a coup in 2014, there have been no massive rallies and March’s elections – governed under a military-scripted constitution – reinstated junta chief Prayut as prime minister.
Police said yesterday that roughly 150 “unarmed” officers would be deployed to Bangkok’s downtown shopping district for the rally.
But there was no sign of a major police presence or any attempt to block the demonstration.
“This is just the beginning, ” Thanathorn told the cheering crowd yesterday.
“Today is a show of strength so that in future others may join us.
“We’re just here today as a test run.
“Prayut, don’t be afraid yet. The real thing is next month.”
Thanathorn has emerged as the most outspoken opponent of the government headed by Prayut, 65, since an election in March that the opposition said were manipulated to favour the army.
Thailand’s election panel has asked the Constitutional Court to dissolve the Future Forward Party, accusing it of infringing laws governing political parties by accepting multi-million dollar loans from Thanathorn.
Last month, the Constitutional Court found Thanathorn guilty of holding shares in a media company on the date his candidacy was registered for the election, disqualifying him as a member of parliament. Thanathorn disputed the ruling.
At the protest, demonstrators chanted “Long live democracy, dictatorship get out”.
Thanathorn earlier signed an agreement with six parties in an opposition alliance to push for changes to the constitution that was drawn up by the junta before the election.
He also won their support for the protest. — Reuters/AFP