The weekend rally, which wrapped up on Sunday morning, was the largest since a military coup in 2014 ushered in yet another army-dominated government for Thailand. Under Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta chief who remains as the nation’s leader after disputed elections last year, the government has tamped down on dissent by detaining activists and invoking states of emergency.
The country is currently under a state of emergency, called amid the coronavirus pandemic, meaning that the protest was technically illegal. Thammasat University, where the protest began, did not officially give permission for the demonstrators to gather there but they congregated at a campus soccer field anyway, marching past water cannon trucks.
Later on Saturday, the protesters pushed their way to Sanam Luang, a vast space in front of the Grand Palace that used to be accessible to the public until it was reclaimed for royal purposes in 2012. The protesters have referred to the space as “the people’s field,” rather than “the royal field,” as Sanam Luang means in Thai. An ultimatum on Saturday by the police to evacuate the grounds went unheeded, and as dark fell few security forces were seen in the immediate area.
Most protesters wore face masks to counter the coronavirus. Volunteers offered squirts of hand sanitizer. Umbrellas warded off the drizzle.
The mood at the rally was more tense than at the one the month before, which felt like a giant street party made for Instagram. Nevertheless, the protesters on Saturday night sat on picnic mats, snacking on dried squid and bamboo-steamed sticky rice bought from nearby vendors. Musicians played protest ballads for entertainment.
On Sunday morning, a smaller crowd, which had camped out in the drizzle, some in hammocks and others in tents, laid out a plaque on Sanam Luang, while chanting slogans against feudalism. “At this place, the people have expressed their will that this country belongs to the people and is not the property of the monarch, as they have deceived us,” read the embossed seal.
Three years ago, a nearby plaque that had long marked the end of absolute monarchy in Thailand mysteriously disappeared, to the consternation of democratic forces. A marker celebrating the monarchy was put in its place.