Thailand protest movement puts country's youth on collision course with military-backed establishment

Protesters hold up their mobile phones during an anti-government demonstration at Democracy Monument in Bangkok on July 18.

(CNN)Thailand's student movement has reignited, as young people across the country defy threats from the military-backed government to take to the streets and call for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

In what was the biggest demonstration since the pandemic began, about 3,000 people gathered at Bangkok's Democracy Monument on Saturday, according to organizers. They called for the dissolution of parliament, for the constitution to be rewritten, and for authorities to stop intimidating activists.
Similar demands were made at smaller protests that sprang up in towns and cities across the country every day this week, with more planned for the coming days.
    The surge in protests comes at a difficult time for the country, which remains under a state of emergency to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The protests also come after years of political upheaval marked by a military coup in 2014, followed by failed promises to restore democracy, and what activists say is a repression of civil rights and freedoms.
      Wanting a fresh kind of politics, young people made their mark on the 2019 elections by turning out to vote for new, progressive, pro-democracy parties. But they were thwarted in part by a military-drafted constitution that enabled the generals to keep hold of power via the Senate led by an unelected Prime Minister.
      While the military-backed ruling coalition promised to restore stability to a nation rocked by decades of coups and political crises, many of the country's young people feel Prayut's government has done little to improve their economic prospects, restore democracy, or build confidence in the people.
      Many of those on the streets say they are tired of the same old faces that have dominated Thai politics for years, and have grown frustrated that attempts to reform existing power structures have ultimately failed.
        "The privilege and superiority should not be inherited by blood, this system has dragged Thailand," said Parit Chiwarak, a core leader of the Student Union of Thailand (SUT), which helped organize Saturday's protest.
        Police attempt to hold back protesters from entering the Democracy Monument to hold an anti-government demonstration in Bangkok on July 18.

        'They don't have a future'

        When the popular pro-democracy Future Forward Party -- which won the third highest number of votes in the election -- was ordered to disband in February, angry young protesters stormed the streets in flash-mob-style protests, calling the move undemocratic.
        Thitinan Pongsudhirak, political scientist and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, said the student movement is "motivated by a lack of a future."
        "If you listen to them, one word that is always is included is 'future.' They don't have a future. These young people for the last 20 years living through Thai politics and putting up with two military coups, and at the same time Thailand has gone nowhere," he said.
        At protests this week, demonstrators flashed the three-fingered salute from the "Hunger Games" movie franchise, which has become a symbol of Thailand's pro-democracy movement since the 2014 military coup.
        Others on Saturday were even seen tip-toeing a dangerous line in expressing their anger by making veiled statements aimed at the monarchy.