Student in Thailand’s emerging anti-government movement have adopted a Japanese cartoon hamster, Hamtaro, as a creative way to get support from young people around the country. University and high school students have rallied almost daily in the past two weeks in Thailand.
Above all to demand the dissolution of parliament, an end to harassment of government critics. They also want amendments to the military-written constitution that critics say help maintain the influence of the army over Thailand’s political system.
This past week, three of the protests were themed around Japanese cartoon “Hamtaro,” where protesters ran around public places in circles, like a hamster wheel, while singing a modified version of the cartoon’s jingle, saying the government loves feasting on taxpayer’s money and demanding Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha dissolve parliament.
“The Japanese cartoon Hamtaro is what’s on television every morning, so it connects with us easily,” said Pumiwat Rangkasiwit, 20, a student activist from a group called New Life Network.
Publishing house Shogakukan, which owns the license to Japanese cartoon Hamtaro, declined to comment on the use of the cartoon in Thai protests when contacted by Reuters.
Student groups have used social media to find new ways for protests, via hashtag #Ideaformob, leaders told Reuters.
Groups are also planning other themes for protests, including Japanese cartoon character Naruto and Harry Potter.
“Young people grew up with these popular culture characters and they help add new dimensions to our movement, making it relatable and easy to communicate with young people,” said Jutatip Sirikhan, 21, president of the Student Union of Thailand.
Activist Chutimon Kritsanapanee, 21, from Kasetsart University in Bangkok, said: “Some people may not be able to relate but the main thing is we want to tell others about the failure of this government through these gimmicks.”
Reasons Behind Students Anti-Government Protests in Thailand
With the government yet to address the protestors’ grievances, Thailand’s recent ‘youthquake’ shows no signs of weakening. According to Free Youth, several more demonstrations are planned over the weekend.
The Free Youth protestors first outlined their three big demands at the Democracy Monument last Saturday — first, they called for the resignation of Chan-ocha and the dissolution of the parliament; second, they demanded the rewriting of the constitution; and third, they urged authorities to stop intimidating activists for exercising their freedom of expression.
Another factor that has fueled the recent youth-led anti-government movement is the economic impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has also brought the country’s otherwise thriving tourism industry to a complete standstill. According to the Bank of Thailand, the country’s economy is expected to contract by a minimum of 8% this year, Reuters reported.
A Thai police officer stands next to demonstrators, who hold up three finger salute, a sign of protest. (Reuters Photo: Jorge Silva)
Due to a coronavirus-induced recession, thousands have been rendered jobless. Students, particularly graduates, find themselves especially vulnerable as they have few to no jobs to choose from. Many denounced the country’s leadership for failing to reverse the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
The situation is made worse by the emergency decree imposed by the countries’ prime minister. The decree strictly prohibits public assembly, stops people from leaving their homes, and also includes a clause to prevent the spread of misinformation that may cause public fear.