Breaking the Royal Taboo: Anatomy of the Youth-Led Protest Movement in Thailand and the Corresponding State’s Response

Grégoire Legault, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa


Authoritarianism and Resistance: Dynamics between Government and Society


Thailand, a flawed democracy and coup-prone country, saw unprecedented political protests in 2020. The protests, led primarily by youth, called not only for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to step down, for the drafting of a new constitution to replace the current one drafted under military diktat, and new democratic elections, but also for the reform of the monarchy as an institution. The protesters, middle-class urbanites, took to the streets and used various creative ways to spread their revindications, including references to pop culture and aligning their movement to the emerging “Milk Tea Alliance” against dictatorship. While the state has by and large been successful in repressing the movement via targeted “lawfare” against key youth figures, in the process, protesters have broken the previous taboo of discussing the monarchy and its role in Thai society. This paper examines how this protest movement fits into the literature on social movements, and explores the various strategies deployed by the state to snuff out dissent. It will show the limits of online mobilization in semi-authoritarian states as well as the long-lasting chilling effects of repeated coups d’état in Thailand on the country’s societal fabric.

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