BANGKOK: Thailand’s premier on Thursday revoked an emergency decree that had been intended to quell pro-democracy rallies despite it failing to stamp out daily protests demanding he resign and for reforms of the unassailable monarchy.
The student-led pro-democracy movement has been gaining momentum since mid-July, with mostly young demonstrators calling for Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s removal and a rewrite of a 2017 military-scripted constitution.
Some protest leaders have also issued controversial demands to reform the ultra-powerful and wealthy monarchy, whose influence permeates every aspect of Thai society.
The “severe” emergency measures were imposed last week after anti-government protesters flashed a three-finger salute to a royal motorcade — an unprecedented challenge to the monarchy.
But the ban on gatherings of more than four people failed to discourage tens of thousands of demonstrators who amassed daily around major Bangkok intersections to call for Prayut to step down.
The former military chief — who masterminded the 2014 coup and has held onto power since — had indicated late on Wednesday he was preparing to lift the state of severe emergency as part of a move to defuse tensions.
Prayut said in a televised address on Wednesday that the country must “step back from the edge of the slippery slope that can easily slide to chaos”.
He had earlier also called for an extraordinary session of parliament to discuss the crisis. That session will be held on Monday.
However, a government statement announcing the withdrawal of the emergency measures on Thursday said the decision was taken because the political situation had improved.
“The severe state of emergency has decreased and ended into a situation in which government officials and state agencies can enforce the regular laws,” it said.
“All conditions set under the severe state of emergency have been stopped.”
The measures had also given the police carte-blanche to arrest protesters and seize electronic materials believed to threaten national security.
Prayut’s apparent concession came after authorities deployed water cannon on Friday, firing chemical-laced water at unarmed protesters in Bangkok’s central shopping district.
Police justified it as following “international standards”, but the tactics drew criticism across Thai society and have not been repeated.
Scores of activists have also been arrested over the past week, many of them prominent faces of the movement.
Revoking the emergency decree was “just a game” for the authorities to buy time and reduce tensions, according to political analyst Titipol Phakdeewanich.