Bangkok: Thousands of pro-democracy protesters participated in the “Run Against Dictatorship” on Sunday at a public park here to express their discontent with the Thai government.
The capital’s Wachirabenchathat Park was filled, even before dawn, with runners of all ages participating in the student-organized event named “Wing Lai Lung” (“Run to Oust Uncle”) in Thai, a reference to the nickname commonly afforded to incumbent Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, who first came to power in 2014 after leading a military coup against the democratically-elected governmen, reports Efe newst.
Unlike other demonstrations held in Thailand, the “Run Against Dictatorship” used one of the country’s most trending activities – collective running – as a way to send their message to the authorities, a strategy that drew a great deal of attention from the general public, which sought a more peaceful and creative way to make their voices heard than the often-bloody clashes between political opponents or with the security forces of the recent past.
The rally was joined by around 14,000 people, including Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the leader of the opposition Anakot Mai (“Future Forward”) party who is also the current government’s most prominent critic.
“I think the first step for the process to democratize Thailand would be that General Prayut has to step down,” Thanathorn told the media.
As they gathered at the start line, runners cried out in unison: “Prayut, get out!” and raised their hands in the air to show a three-finger salute, a symbol adopted from the popular film adaptation of the novel series “The Hunger Games”, that has been often used in protests against the 2014 coup.
The Wing Lai Lung campaign was first launched in November 2019 and since then has faced many hurdles from the authorities, who forced activists to cancel their press conference twice and changed the event’s authorized location at the last minute.
Meanwhile, at another public park located 12 km away, government supporters held a counter-demonstration called “Walk to Back Uncle”, which drew around 5,000 participants.
The event was organized by a pro-government group known as “Cheer Lung”, which aims to defend the Prime Minister and protest against the “nation-haters”, a derogatory name for people who often criticize Thai leaders and want to see major changes in the country.
Despite being the biggest public gatherings held in the five years since the 2014 coup, both events ended without any violent incidents or confrontations.
Thailand has been gripped by political tension for more than a decade, leading to two successful coups in the past 14 years.
The army takeovers came in the context of constant violent protests and clashes between the conservative faction (known as the Yellow Shirts) and the Red Shirts, backers of ousted prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra (in office between 2001-06) and his sister Yingluck (2011-14).
Both members of the wealthy Shinawatra clan were deposed by the army and remain in exile.