A week after it declared emergency, Thailand’s government on Thursday withdrew the order even as protesters continued to come out on the streets demanding the resignation of the military-backed prime minister and former general Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Despite the emergency ban on gatherings and warnings from the authorities, student-led protesters have continued to rally. Far from backing down, on Wednesday the protesters said they were giving the Thai prime minister three days to resign.
During the emergency, dozens of people including activists have been arrested by the police, while the authorities have been accused of using the new rules to prevent legitimate media coverage of demonstrations.
Over the last week, the government of Thailand has blown hot and cold. After declaring an emergency, in the past two days Mr Prayut has called on protesters to de-escalate and work together on a process of dialogue.
In a televised statement on Wednesday, he said that he has been leading the country on the basis of the rule of law and a parliamentary mechanism – a point that has been repeatedly denied by the protesters, who say his authoritarian regime was installed via a military-drafted constitution.
Mr Prayut told protesters that their voices have been heard, and it is now time to bring their demands into consideration, “together with those of others in the Thai society, in a bid to seek an appropriate solution and to reach consensus via the parliamentary mechanism”.
“The only way out of the current problem, which would be fair to all sides, is to talk and work together via the parliamentary process. This path may take time, and may not satisfy those who want to rush to a solution, but it is also the way to avoid damaging the nation. We all need to exercise patience and maturity, and walk the middle path,” the prime minister said.
On Monday, the Thai government released a statement saying the prime minister had endorsed an extraordinary session of parliament to address the current protest situation. Such measures have done little to placate the protest movement so far, however.
For a major part of 2020, anti-government protests have been going on in Thailand. But for the past few months, they have escalated with protesters demanding a new constitution, the resignation of prime minister Prayut and a reduction in the powers of a monarchy which is still much-revered by older generations.
The issue of the monarchy has proved a particularly divisive standpoint, in a country where the king has been protected from criticism by strictly enforced lèse-majesté laws. On Wednesday, supporters of the monarchy turned out in large numbers in Bangkok, prompting clashes with the anti-government protesters.