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Young and restless: Protest parallels in Thailand, Hong Kong

  • Published at 06:49 pm October 19th, 2020
Pro-democracy protesters show the three-finger salute during an anti-government protest, in Bangkok, Thailand
Pro-democracy protesters show the three-finger salute during an anti-government protest, in Bangkok, Thailand October 19, 2020 Reuters

Voranai Vanijaka, a political analyst at Bangkok's Thammasat University, said tech-savvy youths in both territories have 'shared cultural values'

Hong Kong and Thailand have both seen their streets filled with protesters daring to take on an entrenched political elite, and to discuss once-taboo subjects in their push for greater freedoms.

Voranai Vanijaka, a political analyst at Bangkok's Thammasat University, said tech-savvy youths in both territories have "shared cultural values."

Here are five similarities.

Taking on powerful targets

Both movements are primarily motivated by inequality and democracy, but in pushing for a greater say in how their fates are forged they are taking on formidable foes resistant to change. 

For Hong Kong, it is the Chinese Communist Party, which crushes dissent on the mainland and has increased control over the restless semi-autonomous city.

Beijing has rejected calls for greater democracy and police accountability, and has since blanketed the finance hub in a national security law that has, for the meantime, snuffed out mass dissent. 

In Thailand, it is the monarchy -- backed by the powerful, coup-prone military -- that sits at the apex of the political pyramid.

For now, it is unclear how the palace will react to the Thai protests, but in previous periods of turbulence it has played a pivotal role in deciding the outcome.

Rule of law or rule by law?

The way authorities use the law have been key catalysts.

The initial spark in Hong Kong was an eventually aborted attempt to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland's party-controlled courts. 

The protest movement then morphed into a wider push for universal suffrage and opposition to Beijing's rule. 

In Thailand, the kingdom's draconian lese majeste law -- which shields the monarchy from criticism -- has been a crucial component of calls for reform, as well as prosecutions under broadly-worded sedition and cybercrime laws.

Multiple critics of the Thai monarchy have also disappeared, with Human Rights Watch recording at least nine cases involving activists overseas. 

The current round of protests came after activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit was allegedly kidnapped in Cambodia in June. He hasn't been seen since.  

Youth-led

Youngsters are at the heart of calls for reform.

Hong Kong's huge rallies represented a broad swathe of society, from students to lawyers, bus drivers, civil servants and teachers.

But the frontline activists -- and those embracing increasingly violent tactics -- were overwhelmingly young. Many face prosecution and years in jail.

Some of Hong Kong's most visible activists, such as Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, were teenagers when they first got involved in politics.

Thailand's protest leaders -- most of whom have been arrested in the last week -- are in their early twenties and are similarly more willing to embrace confrontational tactics than older generations.

Protest tactics

Thai protesters donned hard hats, goggles, gas masks and umbrellas against water cannon over the weekend in images that could have come straight out of Hong Kong last year.

Young activists in both places have also swapped tactics online and offered messages of support. 

Both movements are using encrypted social messaging platforms to mobilise, and have opted for flashmob rallies -- especially since authorities arrested key leaders.

Hand symbols have also taken centre stage.

In Hong Kong, a rasied palm symbolises the "Five demands, not one less" slogan.

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