| 23 May 2024, Thursday |

Thailand royalist turns protester as anti-government movement broadens

Often seen at the wheel of one of his supercars, Thai ultra-royalist Tanat “Nat” Thanakitamnuay became a well-known face at protests that spread in Thailand’s 2014 coup.

Now Nat is back on the streets calling for the removal of coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister and reforms to the monarchy – a change of heart that points to the broadening of Thailand’s latest anti-government movement.

“It’s bad for your mental health to see an incompetent PM,” said Nat, 29, who was blinded permanently in his right eye last month after being hit by a teargas canister at a protest.

He switched sides in part because of anger over the government’s widely-criticised handling of the latest coronavirus outbreak, which has brought severe economic hardship as well as nearly 12,000 deaths.

That has given new life to a student-led protest movement that emerged last year with demands to limit the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s monarchy and remove Prayuth, a former army chief who seized power in 2014 after months of protests against the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

After a lull due to coronavirus restrictions on gatherings, demonstrations against Prayuth have gathered renewed steam in recent weeks.

“The protests have broadened due to COVID-19 and its economic consequences,” Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of Ubon Ratchathani University’s political science faculty, told Reuters. “That prompted a more diverse group of people to join.”

Defending the government’s handling of the pandemic, Anucha Burapachaisri, deputy secretary to the prime minister, told Reuters that all necessary measures to contain the spread of infections had been taken.

But a recent poll said fewer than 30% of people thought they could rely on the government of Prayuth, who rejects the accusations of opponents that he manipulated a 2019 election to keep power he had taken by force.

“Everybody suffers from the lack of democracy, regardless of how much their income changes,” said Nat.

  • Reuters