Who's joining Thai protests?
More students are marching to unseat Prime Minister Samak, adding to an ideologically mixed coalition of businesspeople, royalists, and academics.
With a textbook tucked under one arm and a megaphone in the other, Totsapol Thaitrong marched in downtown Bangkok Friday with hundreds of fellow students, adding their youthful voices to the cacophony that is Thai politics.Skip to next paragraph
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Outside the national police headquarters, they rallied to denounce police brutality and demanded justice for two activists wounded Thursday by gunmen during a march. Some planned to join the occupation of the prime minister's offices, now in its 11th day, which has brought a volatile political situation close to boiling point.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, the target of the protests, declared a state of emergency in Bangkok after overnight street clashes left one person dead. But Army commander Anuphong Paojinda has let the occupation continue unchecked, arguing that a political settlement is required to restore order.
Across much of Asia, idealistic students are often on the frontlines when activists go to the barricades. But the current push to unseat the Thai leader hasn‚t followed this pattern, relying instead on middle-aged followers to keep up the pressure. Many of those camped out on the lawn of the compound are women, including retirees and business owners.
Yet the mobilization of students, while still small, is growing and could help broaden the campaign, while reviving memories of student-led movements of the 1970s and 1990s. It would also dispel the stereotype of a young generation obsessed with shopping and entertainment, the fruits of Thailand's export-led economic growth.
Mr. Totsapol, a law student, admits that many on campus are too busy or apathetic to march, even though he ignored his professor’s advice to stay impartial. "I like to follow the news and know what happens in the country. I don‚t like bad politicians," he says.
Wanchalerm Sangwantond, a high-school student wearing his uniform, says his mother encouraged him to join Friday's march and the compound sit-in. We come here because we want to show our support [for this campaign]. We hate this government," he says.
Plenty of university students take an interest in social and political issues, says Giles Ungpakorn, a leftist politics professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, where Totsapol studies. But while students stood up to military dictators in 1992, joining the People's Alliance for Democracy - a coalition of royalists, businesspeople, and academics leading the current protests - may be less appealing.
"If students get active in politics, that would be a significant change. But the PAD is fighting on a conservative, reactionary platform. That's not necessarily something that stirs up young people," he says.