From past protests to current electoral campaigns, a group of young activists led by Chonthicha “Lookkate” Jangrew in Thailand is now advocating for change through the ballot box. Despite facing multiple charges for participating in the 2020 student-led protest movement, Chonthicha is running in the May 14th election under the Move Forward Party.
Breaking new ground, these activists have brought previously off-limits issues like the role of the monarchy in society to the forefront. The Move Forward Party is not only seeking to change but also reduce the severity of punishments within Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese-majeste law which deals with royal defamation. Given its significant implications, anyone convicted under this Section is disqualified from the House of Representatives.
For these young activists, the path to change in Thailand involves both street movements and participation in the political process. As Chonthicha explains, “Both paths need to move forward together.”
The protests in 2020 challenged the military’s grip on politics and the role of the monarchy in society, ultimately resulting in legal action against the leaders and participants of the movement. Data from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) as of March 31, 2022, indicates that nearly 2,000 people have been prosecuted for political participation since the beginning of the Free Youth pro-democracy protests in July 2020. Among these individuals, at least 237 are facing lese-majeste charges and 130 have been charged with sedition.
Many activists, including Chonthicha, have since joined political parties like Move Forward, Pheu Thai, and Thai Sang Thai in various capacities, either as candidates, workers, or behind-the-scenes supporters. Furthermore, issues such as amending the lese-majeste law, gender equality, and LGBT rights have gained prominence in mainstream political discourse.
As the young protesters enter politics, political scientist Kanokrat Lertchoosakul at Chulalongkorn University observes that their involvement has energized the progressive left and led to the emergence of a right-wing royalist party, Thai Pakdee. Prajak Kongkirati of Thammasat University believes that this has brought about the most significant change in mainstream politics in decades, with a broad spectrum encompassing a progressive left connected to street politics and a far-right party that has risen in response.
Although they are unlikely to win on May 14, these young activists like Chonthicha hope that their presence in politics will signify a shift toward a fairer system. One where older, powerful political figures can no longer ignore the will of the people.
Chonthicha warns the established powers, “If the people take to the streets again, it will go much further than it did in 2020.”