Across the world in recent months, ordinary citizens in large numbers are rising against dictatorship, poor governance and atrocities committed by those in power. From North America, Europe, Latin America to Asia and down to Africa, there have been serious attempts by citizens to hold those in power accountable and demand a change.

Currently, there are protests happening in five countries around the world, with citizens rioting against the governments in power in Pakistan, Thailand, Chile, Nigeria and Belarus.

NIGERIA

In Africa, Nigerians are demanding reforms in Police, through the #EndSARS demonstration both online and offline demanding the end of police brutality. The protest has received huge backup from the local civil society, and artists, to global figures such as the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, Gabrielle Union and Kanye West.

End Special Anti-Robbery Squad (End SARS) or #EndSARS is a social movement in Nigeria that started on Twitter calling for banning of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police Force, a controversial division known for police oppression and brutality. The protests started as a social media campaign using the hashtag #ENDSARS to demand for the Nigerian Government to end the deployment of SARS.

Within a weekend (9–11 October 2020), the #ENDSARS hashtag had up to 28 million tweets. Nigerians have shared both stories and video evidence of how members of SARS engaged in kidnapping, murder, theft, rape, torture, unlawful arrests, humiliation, unlawful detention, extrajudicial killings, and extortion in Nigeria.

SARS officers have been alleged to profile youth based on appearance, mount illegal road blocks, stop and search, arrest without warrant, rape women, extort young Nigerians for driving exotic vehicles and using iPhones. While some claimed victory as the Nigerian Police Force dissolved the Special Anti-Robbery Squad on Sunday, 11 October 2020, others noted similar promises had been made in recent years and the government planned to reassign SARS officers rather than remove them entirely. The government has continued to violently repress protests despite the announcement.

THAILAND

In Asia, for three months now, Protesters in Thailand have been demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha and demanding the reform of the Thai monarchy unprecedented in the contemporary era. The protests were initially triggered by the dissolution of the Future Forward Party in late February 2020. The party was critical of Prayuth and the country’s political landscape designed by the current 2017 constitution. This first wave of protests was held exclusively on academic campuses and was brought to a halt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The protests erupted again on 18 July in a large demonstration organized under the Free Youth umbrella at the Democracy Monument. Three demands were presented to the government: the dissolution of parliament, ending intimidation of the people, and the drafting of a new constitution. The July protests were triggered by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and enforcement of the lockdown Emergency Decree and spread nationwide.

Periodic mass demonstrations followed. On 3 August, two student groups publicly raised demands to reform the monarchy, breaking a long taboo of publicly criticizing the monarchy. A week later, ten demands for monarchy reform were declared. MPs tabled motions to reform the Constitution, and a parliamentary dialogue forum involving proposals of monarchy reform was set up. A 19 September rally saw 20,000–100,000 protesters and has been described as an open challenge to King Vajiralongkorn. A government decision to delay voting on a constitutional amendment in late September fueled nearly unprecedented public republican sentiment. Following mass protests on 14 October, a “severe” state of emergency was declared in Bangkok on the 15th citing the alleged blocking of a royal motorcade. Protests continued despite the ban, prompting a crackdown by the police on 16 October.

Government responses have included filing criminal charges using the Emergency Decree; arbitrary detention and police intimidation; delaying tactics; the deployment of military information warfare units; media censorship; the mobilization of pro-government and royalist groups; which have accused the protesters of receiving support from foreign governments or NGOs as part of a global conspiracy against Thailand; and the deployment of thousands of police at protests. The government has ordered university chancellors to prevent students from demanding monarchy reform and to identify student protest leaders. Protests in October, when the King resided in the country, had ended in crackdowns and mass arrests.

CHILE

In Latin America, In Chile, this month citizens will vote on whether the country should update its constitution which dates from the era of Augusto Pinochet who ruled from 1973 to 1990.

People are already on the streets protesting against the government of a Billionaire President, Sebastian Pinera.

One recurring theme in Latin American politics is how regularly the rules of the constitutional game change. On average, Latin American countries rewrite their constitutions every 20 years. Until recently, Chile was an exception. The country’s transition to democracy in 1990 was based on rules dating from the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, but these were thrown into question by widespread social uprising in October 2019. This prompted leaders from across the political spectrum to back constitutional change as an exit route to the crisis.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a referendum scheduled for April 2020 had to be postponed. But on October 25, Chileans will finally go to the ballot box to vote on whether they want a new constitution and, if so, how it should be drawn up. If the option of constitutional change wins, elections will be called for April 2021, with the goal of establishing an assembly that would write a new constitution within a maximum of 12 months.

BELARUS

In Europe, Belarusians have been protesting for more than 60 days since President Lukashenko claimed an 80% victory in the last August polls widely viewed as rigged.

President Alexander Lukashenko has been the head of state of Belarus since 1994 and did not have a serious challenger in the previous five elections, resulting in him being called “Europe’s last dictator. Under his authoritarian rule, the government has frequently repressed the opposition.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, an opposition candidate in the election who claims she received 60–70% of the votes, announced the creation of the Coordination Council, with membership applications open to all Belarusians who agreed that the official election had been falsified.

The protesters have faced violent persecution by the pro-Lukashenko authorities. A statement by the United Nations Human Rights Office on 1 September cited more than 450 documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, as well as reports of sexual abuse and rape.

In response to Lukashenko’s statements and actions, the EU introduced economic sanctions aimed at the Belarusian regime, which retaliated by imposing symmetrical sanctions against the EU.

Lukashenko had faced greater public opposition amid his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which Lukashenko has denied as a serious threat. Of the five elections won by Lukashenko, only the first in 1994 was credibly deemed free and fair by international monitors.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya stated that the people of Belarus had to find a way to protect their vote. According to an interview with Franak Viačorka, son of opposition leader Vincuk Viačorka, the protests against Lukashenko have been “leaderless”.

PAKISTAN

In another instance, an anti-government demonstration in Pakistan organized by a new alliance of opposition political parties drew crowds of tens of thousands on Friday in scenes described by the prime minister’s opponents as the “beginning of the end” for Imran Khan (The Prime Minister).

The protest in Gujranwala on Friday was the first held by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of 11 opposition political parties that have united to oust Khan from power.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the PDM, said: “This is an illegal government. It’s been imposed upon us by the establishment. We reject this illegal rule.”

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