Thai activists vow to march on coup anniversary

Bangkok (AFP) –


Thai pro-democracy activists Saturday vowed to march on the seat of government to mark the fourth anniversary of a military coup, comparing the junta leader to Pinocchio for not holding promised elections.

The military that seized power on May 22, 2014 in the name of curbing political instability banned gatherings of more than five people and repeatedly dangled the prospect of a return to democracy.

Polls are now tentatively set for February 2019 but impatience with the status quo has prompted a spate of rare rallies since the start of the year.

The hundreds of people who attended Saturday's demonstration at Bangkok's Thammasat University said they would take it up a notch and march on Government House on the coup anniversary later this month if the election date was not moved up to November and the junta dissolved.

"We want the military junta to step down from authority and make elections happen in this country, because it's four years now that no election and no democracy has occurred," said student Karn Pongpraphapan, a spokesman for the "We Want Voting Movement" who has helped organise some of the rallies at Thammasat.

Asked why the rallies had not attracted a larger base among Thai society, Karn said people were scared to engage in politics.

Authorities have filed charges against multiple activists but so far they have eschewed a sweeping crackdown.

"We regard their rallies as expressing opinion but it must not affect society," government spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said in a LINE message to reporters before the event, which included music and posters mocking the military elite and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the junta chief.

The afternoon rally featured memes depicting Prayut with a long nose just like the famously fibbing character Pinocchio, while one man walked around with a model of a tank positioned atop a copy of the constitution.

The rallies have increased in size and frequency since January, as weariness over the poll delay is tinged with public anger over scandals highlighting special treatment for the well-connected.

"Today I came to join the protest because I think Thailand should have elections, and the elections must be be held this year," said protester Yupa Saengsai, 48.

But despite restrictions anticipation for a vote is building, with analysts speculating that Prayut could have future political ambitions.

A new charter has also turned Thailand's upper house or senate into an appointed rather than elected body, a powerful check on the next civilian administration.