Thai protesters hit the streets as PM clings to power

Pro-democracy protesters vented their anger in Bangkok’s heavy rain Saturday after Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-cha survived a no-confidence vote in parliament.

More than 300 demonstrators marched in central Bangkok’s main shopping mall district carrying red flags and wearing ponchos in the downpour.

“The government should be gone. If things were good why would we come out to protest?” a 28-year-old demonstrator told AFP.

Ahead of the rally, police used shipping containers to block major routes to the advertised protest site at the central Lumphini Park where protesters had planned to march.

There was heavy police presence across the downtown area with riot police and a water cannon truck stationed at the Ratchaprasong intersection near major shopping malls.

This week Thai lawmakers debated an opposition-instigated censure motion about the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and economic management — Saturday was the third no-confidence motion vote since the 2019 election.

The sluggish rollout of Thailand’s vaccination programme and financial pain from restrictions has heaped political pressure on Prayut’s government.

The country is reeling from its worst economic performance since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis as well as a deadly third wave of coronavirus infections.

Total case numbers have topped more than 1.2 million with over 12,000 deaths.

Prayut defended his government’s handling of the pandemic in parliament earlier this week.

“Thailand’s death rate from Covid-19 is comparatively very low, but we must make sure that there will be no more deaths,” Prayut said. 

He added the decision not to access doses under the global vaccine distribution scheme, known as Covax, was in Thailand’s best interest.

The country has imported the Chinese-made Sinovac and Sinopharm jabs, and received a donation of 1.5 million Pfizer doses from the US, after locally produced AstraZeneca vaccines couldn’t keep pace.

“Government management of Covid is really bad. My dad is unemployed and my mum got infected despite getting two Sinovac jabs,” a 21-year-old male protester told AFP.

Fresh infections tallied almost 16,000 Saturday representing a decrease in recent weeks that has also coincided with a reduction of testing.

In the morning, Prayut and five cabinet ministers clung to power after garnering enough support on the floor of parliament, following a week of speculation some members of the ruling coalition were plotting to withdraw support.

Bangkok has been plagued with regular street protests since late June including clashes between demonstrators and police.

Officers have deployed tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannon while some demonstrators have retaliated with ping pong bombs and slingshots.

Later on Saturday night some protesters started a fire at the notorious Din Daeng intersection — the site of past clashes — and let off fireworks and crackers.

In July last year, a youth-led pro-democracy movement kicked off in Thailand demanding reforms to the monarchy, a rewrite of the military-scripted constitution and the resignation of Prayut, a former coup leader.

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