Thailand’s democracy protests are dwindling

LAST SUMMER, despite the tropical heat and humidity, more than 10,000 mostly young protesters paraded repeatedly through central Bangkok. The protests had a carnival atmosphere. Students dressed as Harry Potter, the better to vanquish He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (King Maha Vajiralongkorn); held aloft giant yellow ducks (a symbol popular with democracy activists around the world); and flashed the three-fingered salute inspired by “The Hunger Games”, a series of books and films about resistance to tyranny. The protesters had three demands: an end to the government of Prayuth Chan-ocha, the coup-leading general who has installed himself as prime minister; the adoption of a new constitution to replace the one drawn up by the army; and a reduction in the powers of the monarchy.

The demonstrations continue, but over the past few months, the crowds have rarely exceeded 3,000. On some days just a few hundred turn up. The youth-led democracy movement appears to have run out of steam. “Even among the protest leaders, we are at a loss,” says Yanisa Varaksapong, an 18-year-old activist. “With our friends being arrested, and the reaction of the people, who aren’t as ready to come out on the street as they were last year.”

Five factors have contributed to the dwindling numbers. The first was a spike in cases of covid-19 in late December...

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