Defying bans on large gatherings amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Thailand calling for the resignation of the government and the dissolution of parliament.

The protestors who gathered near Bangkok's Democracy Monument issued petitions against the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief who toppled the elected government in a military coup in 2014.

Demanding for Democracy

Representational Picture Wikimedia Commons

Organizers issued three demands: the dissolution of parliament, an end to harassment of government critics, and amendments to the military-written constitution that critics say virtually guaranteed victory for Prayuth's party in elections last year.

"How can we be OK with the lack of democracy like this?" student activist Tattep Ruangprapaikit told the crowds. Police were on standby but did not move to stop the protest. The monument was cordoned off with signs reading: "No entry without permission. Maintenance in progress." Public opposition to Prayuth's rule has been growing in recent months. Since last year's election, a court has dissolved the second-largest opposition party, giving Prayuth's ruling coalition firmer control in parliament.

Viewing Monarchy as Sacrosanct

Prayuth also saw several cabinet members resign on Thursday over internal disputes. Prayuth's Palang Pracharat Party campaigned on a vision of traditional Thai culture and loyalty to King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Thailand is officially a constitutional monarchy, but insulting the king is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and many conservatives view the monarchy as sacrosanct.

Some signs at Saturday's protest made reference to the monarchy, including one banner reading "The People's Party isn't Dead" - a reference to the political party whose revolution ended absolute royal rule in 1932. Democracy Monument is the most prominent memorial to that revolution, but others have been removed or renamed since King Vajiralongkorn assumed the throne after the 2016 death of his father, who had reigned for 70 years.

(With inputs from agencies)