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Thai people successfully defend democracy against military coup, 1992
On February 23, 1991, a military group by the name of the NPKC, or National Peace Keeping Council, which was composed of Military academy graduates, sought to overthrow the current government in Thailand, which they believed to be a “parliamentary dictatorship”. NPKC quickly gained control over the government and formed the political party known as Samakki Tham.
Samakki Tham quickly grew and became one of the most powerful parties in parliament as it began to acquire more and more members from other established Parliamentary parties. After their entry into Parliament, Samakki Tham then picked a group of people who would comprise a committee whose job would be to rewrite the constitution.
Outraged by this decision, the Students Federation of Thailand quickly recharged what was known as the Campaign for Popular Democracy. The Campaign was comprised of teachers, women, academics, human rights groups, the poor, representatives from nineteen different organizations, and middle class intellectuals. In April 1991, the Campaign and Students Federation began creating public awareness of the new changes that were to be made to the constitution by the new military political powers.
Protest letters were written and press releases were sent out in opposition to rewrites being made to Thailand’s constitution. Then several different council members from different provinces who supported the campaign to stop the rewrites created what would later be know as The People’s Constitution. On June 24, 1991, The People’s Constitution was then given to the National Assembly.
Before the March 22 elections that were to be held in 1992, the Students Federation held a demonstration at Sanam Luang Park in Bangkok. The demonstration was thrown after the changes they had suggested in The People’s Constitution were not integrated. Between 50,000 to 70,000 people showed up to support the cause, including representatives from more than 50 nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s) and four political parties.
On March 22, 1992, Samakki Tham won the general election and, on April 7, announced that Army Commander-in-Chief General Suchinda Kraprayoon, a member of Samakki Tham, was to be Prime Minister. This move by the Samakki Tham to appoint Suchinda Prime Minister caused grief with the public because up until this day Suchinda reassured the public he would not take on the role of Prime Minister, as he was not an elected Member of Parliament.
April to the end of May 1992 is when vigorous campaigning began by the Students Federation and the Campaign for Popular Democracy. Their goals were “to increase public awareness of the Thai constitution practice, encourage democratic practices, and assist in coordinating actives among other NGO’s with these aims” and also “to struggle in a nonviolent way against General Suchinda’s appointment using symbolic and direct action”.
On April 8, 1992, campaigners began the first of many hunger strikes against the Samakki Tham party and General Suchinda. Nonviolent demonstrations continued on April 20, May 4, and May 6-7 at different locations around Bangkok including the Sanam Luang Park and the Royal Plaza. Speeches were made, leaflets were handed out and more people joined in on hunger strikes. Support for campaigners grew from 60,000 people to 150,000 by May 7.
On May 14, the Confederation for Democracy was created which held representatives from key groups including politicians, academics, “slum dwellers” and labor workers. They joined in on the campaign against the military government.
From May 17 to 20 tension grew. Numbers of demonstrators continued to grow in Bangkok and the military government began deploying troops and police to areas around the city. Campaigner’s continued their demonstration in nonviolent, unarmed ways. The crowd grew to close to 500,000 people. Eventually, when demonstrators tried to make their way to the Government House they ran into a police barricade. Some campaigners threw debris, police retaliated with beatings and violence started to grow. Some of the first acts of vandalism were reportedly done by undercover police.
Alongside continued nonviolent action, violence escalated: vandalism, bottles filled with gasoline, police and military troops firing at will, motorcycle gangs, buildings set on fire, and arrests. On May 18, the government placed a ban on groupings of more than ten people. Untouched by this ban 50,000 people gathered at Ramkhanhean University the next day. Resistance groupings also began popping up in different parts of Bangkok on May 20.
Protests continued after a meeting with the King, General Suchinda, and opposition party member Major-General Srimuang where the King asked for them to resolve their issues through conciliation. Still, campaigners boycotted military sponsored concerts, taxi drivers refused to accept known military members, and the public took money out of military banks.
The public kept pushing for changes to the constitution throughout the end of May, and more and more businesses joined in on the cause. The Samakki Tham drafted amendments to the constitution and on May 24, Suchinda resigned as Prime Minister after agreeing that the Prime Minister should be an elected Member of Parliament. By the June 30, 1992, the Military Parliament was abolished and a new election was set for September.