Thousands Join Thai Rally Against Military-Backed Government

Siraphob Thanthong-Knight
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Thai Opposition Party Faces Dissolution Over Monarchy Accusation

(Bloomberg) -- Thousands of people joined a rally in Thailand to protest against the military-backed government and call for more political freedom, less than a year after a disputed general election.

The demonstrators gathered Sunday in a Bangkok park for an early-morning protest jog against the administration led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha. Former army chief Prayuth seized power in a coup in 2014, headed a junta for five years and returned as premier after the March election.

“We want a true democratic government, not a dictatorship in disguise,” Tanawat Wongchai, a student activist and one of the organizers of the so-called “Run Against Dictatorship,” said ahead of the event.

Prayuth’s opponents question the fairness of last year’s poll under a military-backed constitution and criticize the royalist establishment’s grip on power. The demonstration, the second notable anti-government rally in a month, evokes memories of Thailand’s history of sometimes destabilizing political protests.

Such turbulence contributed to slower economic growth in Thailand compared with neighbors such as Indonesia and Vietnam, but the political tension for now remains lower than during those past episodes of unrest.

While there was no official count of the numbers at Sunday’s fun-run style gathering, a rough tally at the site indicated thousands of people, many wearing tee-shirts and bibs made for the event. Organizers earlier said 10,000 had registered, adding parallel events would take place in other Thai cities.

“I’m here to show that we’re fed up,” said Paphatsara Netsang, a Thai who lives in Singapore but flew in for the rally. “Nothing changes. Everything is still the same. There’s no economic improvement.”

A separate rally was held in another Bangkok park as a show of support for Prayuth. He’s downplayed the demonstrations against his ruling coalition as involving a comparatively small number of people.

The pro-Prayuth crowd appeared to number in the thousands but was smaller than the anti-government turnout.

“I love Prayuth because he’s taking his job seriously,” said Suphak Rirattanapong, one of those attending. Suphak left a note for the premier at a well-wishing board that encouraged him to “keep fighting for this country.”

Tanawat, the student activist, said authorities must tackle the Thai economic slowdown, amend the charter to give people more rights and end harassment of the opposition. Otherwise, more rallies will be organized, he said.

Future Forward, the highest-profile opposition party, drew thousands to a Bangkok demonstration last month to protest against its looming dissolution in court cases. Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, already banned from parliament, also faces charges he’s rejected for calling that gathering.

Read More: Thai Parliament Passes $106 Billion Budget in Boost for Economy

Prayuth received a boost on Saturday when parliament approved the annual budget after a months-long delay, providing a fillip for the struggling Thai economy. The bill was viewed as a test of his ability to shepherd key legislation through a bitterly divided legislature.

(Updates with details of pro-government demonstration from the ninth paragraph.)

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