AFP — Hundreds of protesters drove through Bangkok’s streets on Sunday to mark the 15th anniversary of a military coup that ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
The billionaire ex-premier — now living in self-exile — has remained a prominent figure in the country’s politics since the military deposed his government on September 19, 2006.
A massive cardboard model of a tank for their “cars against tanks” protest, rallygoers honked car horns to call for the resignation of Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a former army chief who came to power in a 2014 coup.
“Fifteen years have passed, we are still here to fight,” shouted Nattawut Saikuar, a politician long associated with Thaksin, to a sea of supporters waving “Kick out Prayut” flags.
“No matter how many coups there are, it cannot stop us… No matter how good capacity their tanks are, it cannot stop the fighting hearts of the people.”
Thailand has seen more than a dozen coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 by its putsch-happy military — often staged in the name of protecting the powerful royal family.
Thaksin’s juggernaut rise to power was boosted by the so-called “Red Shirts”, mostly working-class supporters who revere him for populist contributions such as instating a universal healthcare system.
But he was hated by Bangkok elites and the powerful military, and has faced a raft of corruption accusations.
His influence in Thailand’s patronage-reliant politics permeated the kingdom even after his ouster — his sister Yingluck was the next premier, before she too was deposed in a 2014 coup led by then-army chief Prayut.
The general went on to become prime minister in 2019 elections governed under a new constitution authored by his junta.
Nattawut said the premier has had plenty of time to improve Thailand, “but the country is in recession. The economy, society and politics are collapsing”.
The red-clad protesters in cars and on motorbikes moved to Democracy Monument for a quick demonstration in the heavy rain before dispersing at nightfall.
Another small group briefly clashed with authorities at the nearby Victory Monument intersection, flinging projectiles at riot-gear clad police who deployed tear gas against them before scattering around 9 pm (1400 GMT).
The protesters are part of an anti-government movement that has repeatedly called for Prayut’s resignation since July 2020.
Scrutiny of the government increased after a fresh Covid-19 wave in April snowballed Thailand’s cumulative caseload from less than 29,000 to more than 1.4 million infections in just five months, as well as a rising death toll.
Earlier this month, the premier survived a no-confidence vote — his third since 2019.