Hundreds of students from schools in Bangkok converged outside the Education Ministry on Wednesday to call for the ouster of the education minister and the prime minister. “Nobody is happy under dictatorship,” one student said from the stage set outside the minister.
The young protesters in student uniforms, many wearing white ribbons, urged Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan to step down. They also called for fundamental reform in Thailand’s schools.
Students stood up to sing the national anthem while showing the three-fingered salute that has become the signature gesture for all anti-government rallies. In a symbolic gesture calling for reform, students tied white ribbons to the gate of the ministry.
At the end of the national anthem, the students blew whistles — apparently to send a piercing message of their discontent to the minister. They continued to blow their whistles and shouted “Get out.”
When the minister arrived to address them the continued to shout Get out.”
Education Minister Aided in 2014 Coup
Mr Nataphol is a former key leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, a right-wing pressure group notorious for blowing whistles during the street protests. The protests led to the 2014 coup against the democratically elected government in 2014.
The rallies against the the Prayut government, and in support of a new charter, began in July. Even more they have spread to universities and schools throughout Thailand.
The student-led protest movement has declared three core demands; holding new elections; amending the constitution; also ending the intimidation of critics of the government.
Meanwhile, the United Nations children’s organization UNICEF issued a statement calling for all parties to ensure that those involved remain safe and able to express their opinions peacefully without fear or intimidation.
The anti-government protests come as many people become weary of the rule of Prayut, a former army chief. He took power in a military coup in 2014 and retained it in a 2019 election widely seen as rigged to all but guarantee his victory.
Under his leadership the economy has struggled to compete with its neighbors, even before the damage inflicted by measures to counter the coronavirus pandemic. The government’s image has also been tarnished by corruption scandals for which no one has been held accountable.