Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha agreed to constitutional amendments, including removing the Senate’s power to vote in the prime minister’s election, among several conciliatory steps by the government. However, the policies are unlikely to fully satisfy the pro-democracy demands, which also include Prayuth’s own resignation and the reduction of the monarchy’s powers. The government might still take firm action against activists if any further contentious incidents occur, prompting wider disruptive effects in Bangkok and other cities nationwide.
Pro-democracy protests are likely to continue in Thailand, despite the government's conciliatory approaches in late October. Pro-democracy activists have been gathering mainly in Bangkok, with small gatherings in other cities nationwide, since July to denounce the current government's alleged undemocratic policies and to demand political reforms, such as amending the constitution and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha. A state of emergency was in place in Bangkok Oct. 15-22, following several incidents at the capital, including a pro-democracy rally that came very close to Queen Suthida’s motorcade Oct. 14. The decree had banned gatherings of more than five people and the publication of any news that officials considered threatening to national security.
Prime Minister Agrees to Constitutional Amendment, in Attempt to Diffuse Political Dispute
Prayuth stated Oct. 28 that he would agree to amend the constitution after a two-day special parliamentary session over the political impasse. The amendments Prayuth consented to will include removing the Senate's ability to vote in the prime minister's election, a significant concession as pro-democracy groups allege that the military-appointed upper chamber of the National Assembly is undemocratic. The change would leave the prime minister's selection entirely to the elected House of Representatives. Additionally, the government pledged it would form a reconciliation committee involving political parties, MPs, pro-democracy activists, government supporters, and other civilians appointed by the House of Representatives to discuss possible action towards resolving the political dispute.
Demonstrations Remain Likely in Coming Weeks, as Prayuth Still Rejects Some Pro-democracy Demands
However, pro-democracy groups will likely continue demonstrating in Bangkok and other cities across Thailand in the coming weeks. Prayuth’s commitment to reducing the Senate’s powers will likely only partially satisfy the pro-democracy protesters' demands to amend the constitution. Prayuth has also resisted the two other key pro-democracy demands, his resignation and reforms to the monarchy. Although the reconciliation committee could help ease political tensions in the medium-term, few details - including its composition and a timeline for providing recommendations to parliament - are known. Any perceived delaying in the reconciliation committee’s formation and discussions will likely prompt further pro-democracy protests.
Further Firm Government Action Likely if New Incidents Occur, Prompting Wider Disruptions
Despite the government’s attempts to reduce tensions, officials will likely still take new firm action against protesters in the event of any further contentious incidents. Authorities may also arrest more pro-democracy protesters over remarks critical of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and the monarchy under lese majeste laws, which ban any perceived insults against the monarchy, or for violations of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)-related restrictions.
Any escalation in government response or large counterprotests by royalist organizations and supporters of the monarchy could trigger further disruptive rallies in the coming weeks. Officials have temporarily suspended transport services in Bangkok before mass demonstrations and may take similar action ahead of sizeable rallies. The government may also interrupt telecommunication networks to disrupt planning by pro-democracy groups. Similar disruptions could occur in other cities nationwide if larger protests materialize outside of Bangkok. Additionally, increasingly frequent counterrallies by Thai Pakdee and other royalist organizations will increase the potential for physical confrontations between opposing groups of activists.