BANGKOK, Feb 13 — Thai university students lampooned the military at a football game today in a rare act of open defiance against the junta, which has strangled political expression since seizing power two years ago.
In a colourful parade around the Bangkok stadium where crowds gathered to watch a match between two of kingdom’s top universities, students brought out elaborate hand-made floats and banners mourning prolonged military rule.
The parade is a long-running tradition at the annual game between rival universities Thammasat and Chulalongkorn and is often provocative and political.
But the show has taken on new significance in the past two years as a rare chance to speak out under the military junta that outlawed all political activities in Thailand after toppling an elected government in May 2014.
“What is the reason we have soldiers [in power]? No one dares to ask,” read one banner marched around the arena by students before the game.
Coup leader turned Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha says he was forced to take power to restore order after months of mass street protests.
But critics have questioned his intentions in response to his sliding timeline for fresh elections.
Police allowed today’s parade to go forward despite a ban on political gatherings, but officers did detain a student activist leader who attended the game and had a standing arrest warrant for a previous protest against military corruption.
Police also ordered students to adjust one parade float by sawing off part of a paper mache gun to make it look “less real,” students told AFP.
The float took a shot at the military-appointed drafters who are penning a new constitution to replace the charter torn up after the coup.
It featured a larger-than-life effigy of the drafting committee chairman alongside a gun pointed at a bloody puppet.
“It represents that a constitution that comes from the army will destroy the rights of the people,” said a student who helped make the float and requested anonymity.
The proposed charter is scheduled to go up for a public referendum in July, but has already been slammed by critics as anti-democratic.
Thailand has seen 19 constitutions come and go since absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932, with a string of military coups putting the pin in attempts at full-fledged democracy.
The host of this year’s football match, Thammasat University, was founded in 1934 by Thailand's foremost democracy figure Pridi Banomyong and holds a hallowed place in the hearts of the kingdom’s pro-democracy movement.
For decades it incubated student activism and debate against the military and elite stranglehold on the country.
It was also the site of bloody crackdowns on student protesters by arch-royalists and security forces in the 1970s.
Since the 2014 military power grab, Thammasat students have been at the forefront of the small but creative anti-coup protests that have taken place. — AFP