An anti-government group has said it will stick to its original demands while at least 10,000 protesters rallied at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on Sunday, in what appeared to be the largest demonstration against the government since Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed.
Thatthep Ruangprapaikitseree, the leader of the Free People group — the new name of the Free Youth group — announced on Sunday that the group will stand by its three demands.
In a statement released on Sunday, the group called on the government to stop harassing individuals who are exercising their rights in accordance with democratic principles and set up a charter-drafting body to come up with a new constitution based on the will of the people.
The group also urged the government to dissolve parliament to allow the people to exert their right to elect their own representatives, by amending Section 269 and 272 of the constitution.
The group also reiterated its anti-coup stance and rejected the establishment of a national unity government.
The move comes after a group of Thammasat University students expanded their demands to include reform of the monarchy last week.
Anti-government protesters began arriving at the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue to participate in the rally organised by the Free People group about 2pm on Sunday.
About 600 officers from the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) were deployed to maintain law and order during the protest.
Three student leaders who last week were involved in reading a 10-point manifesto that included demands to reform the monarchy reportedly came to the rally, but left after the Free People group refused to incorporate their demands into their proposal.
The three were Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Panupong “Mike” Chadnok and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul.
The number of participants at Sunday’s rally differs from source to source, with rally organisers saying between 20,000-30,000 people attended.
However, the MPB estimated the number of anti-government protesters to be about 12,000.
During the protest, the Bangkok Post talked to protesters.
“I came here to support the new generation because people from my generation has failed to build true democracy and a future for them. With democracy only in name, young people are forced to take to the streets to make their voices heard and I can’t let them walk on this difficult path alone,” said an 84-year-old man who declined to provide his name.
“I came today because I really want to see changes. I can’t stand the injustice and dysfunctional democracy.
“There are many questions which need to be answered, such as, why does the opposition keep getting banned, while the government gets to get away with everything?” another protester, who also refused to reveal her name, said.
“We love this country too. Just because we have a different vision on how Thailand ought to be in the future and want the country to be more egalitarian, transparent and democratic, it doesn’t mean we hate the nation,” a group of university students at the protest said.
The anti-government protest was met by a much smaller royalist counter-protest led by the Coordination Centre for Vocational Students and People Protecting the Institution, who demanded the Free People movement leave the monarchy out of its protests.
About 60 royalist demonstrators converged at the Democracy Monument in an attempt to counter the anti-government rally on the opposite side of Ratchadamnoen Avenue.
The royalists ended their rally near the monument, leaving some members to observe the anti-government demonstration, which was still going as of 9.30pm on Sunday.
The royalist camp’s leader, Sumeth Trakulwoonnu, said earlier it would closely watch speakers at the anti-government protest to see if they attacked the high institution.
Any evidence of attacks against the monarchy will be submitted to the police, he warned.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Cha-o-cha has called for authorities deployed to secure the protest to exercise restraint and avoid infringing on the rights of the demonstrators. No arrests were reported at the event.