Thailand’s unprecedented revolt puts its people against the king

Thailand's unprecedented revolt puts its people against the king

The royal mansion is the birthplace of King Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand, and as the crown prince he accepted an official invitation to the royal family in 2016 after the death of his father Bhumibol Adulyadej, who had been on Tuesday four years ago.

Vajiralongkorn, who spends a lot of time abroad, returned to Thailand this week for royal affairs.

On Tuesday, a brawl broke out at the Bangkok Democracy Monument, where protests were held for months between rebel-themed protesters and police. Police said 21 people were arrested.

Protesters partially blocked the road near the monument, erected barricades, and police tried to remove it.

Later, the convoy of Vajiralongkorn passed the protesters for the first time. Protesters shouted “free our friends,” and heard a three-finger salute in the Hunger Games movie, a popular symbol of the protest.

Police Deputy Spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen, Police Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen, confirmed that protesters were arrested for demonstrating without permission and detained for violating the “Public Association Law”.

Protesters gather at the monument and plan to march to the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday and camp there. If they continue, they can face off against pro-monarch groups that have planned rebellion.

Experts say this week could be a watershed for ongoing protests calling for a new constitution, the dissolution of parliament, Prime Minister Prayut Chan Ocha’s resignation, and an end to intimidation against government critics. Many are demanding a real constitutional monarchy under a democratic system.

Protest leaders expect a big turnout on Wednesday, but there are doubts about whether they are pushing too hard on monarchy reforms, whether they will be bringing people to the streets during sensitive times and heavy rains in October. The king is in the city, it was the anniversary of the late king, and Wednesday is the anniversary of the 1973 public uprising against military dictatorship.

Punchada Sirivunnabood, associate professor of political science at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Mahidol University, said, “We expect the government to have very strong control over this protest.”

Those who demand monarchy reform are at risk of long prison sentences. Thai citizens are undoubtedly expected to worship monarchs, and criticizing kings, queens, or heirs can be punished under the world’s most stringent Reze Mezeste law.

But that taboo is breaking. What Start of anti-government student-led assembly It has grown into a movement that attracts a large aspect of society in cities across the country. The protests held in Bangkok on August 16 attracted about 10,000 people, and in mid-September thousands of demonstrators declared near the Royal Palace that “the people here are not here, but theirs. king.”

“It must be now. We could no longer dance and ignore it anymore because the root cause of the political problem came from this institution,” said 21-year-old student Panusaya Sitijira and Tanakul. New student movement. “Otherwise, we’ll fall into the same vicious cycle again. The coup is supported by the king as a coup.”

Protest leader Panusaya & quot; Rung & quot; City Jira and Tanah Kool (C) pay tribute to the Three Finger Hunger Games at the Democratic Rally in Bangkok on September 20, 2020.

Direct challenge

It was on a hot August night when Panusaya, nicknamed Rung, was first onstage and delivered a list of ten things calling for reform in the monarchy.

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Those demands included the king taking responsibility for the constitution, repealing laws that defam the monarchy, abolishing the new constitution, abolishing the royal family, ousting the military-led government, and disbanding the royal guards.

“I almost fell down while reading the statement. I couldn’t feel my hands or feet,” she told CNN. “I was afraid of the crowd reaction that night.”

But the crowd did not leave. Panusaya cared.

Although absolute monarchy rule ended in 1932, the king of Thailand still exerts considerable political influence. The image of former king Boo Meebol was carefully cultivated to show him as a stable father figure who ruled according to Buddhist principles for decades amid political turmoil and worked to improve the lives of ordinary Thais with great moral authority.

Panusaya City Jira and Thanakul read a list of demands, including the repeal of the Kingdom's royal defamation law, at a democratization rally held at Tamasat University on August 10, 2020.

Thailand is also no stranger to political upheaval and bloody protests. There have been 13 successful military coups since 1932, when Prayut Chan Ocha, the most recent Prime Minister and former Army Prime Minister, came to power in 2014.

Bhumibol had a close relationship with former military rulers, granting legitimacy in exchange for firm support for the monarchy.

Panusaya and her protest group, the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UTD), say this way of governance is not constitutional. On September 19, she stood up again and read a letter listing the reforms she had addressed privately to the king. The next day, thousands of people were still left, and the group turned over the demands to the police, asking the police to pass them on to the Privy Council, the royal adviser.

“I wanted him to hear what we wanted and our complaints. I also wanted people to know that they had the right to speak to the king. Everyone should be equal,” she said.

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Bhumibol is truly loved by many in the country, but his son King Vajiralongkorn, who was crowned in May 2019, does not have the same moral authority.

Vajiralongkorn is believed to spend most of his time abroad and has been absent from most public life as Thailand suffered from the coronavirus pandemic.

Protesters hold portraits of King Maha Bahiral Longkorn of Thailand and his father Phu Mibol Adulya Dez at a pro-government and pro-kingdom rally in Bangkok on July 30, 2020.

Last week, the German Foreign Minister told Parliament that Vajiralongkorn should not conduct politics in European countries.

Thailand has managed to contain the coronavirus outbreak, but the economic impact has been severe. Protesters who say that the declining economy has little job prospects for them began to scrutinize the king’s tremendous wealth and power.

Vajiralongkorn solidified his power by expanding the King’s Guard, a military unit he appointed. He also greatly increased his personal fortune. Amendments to the Crown Property Law to allow billions of dollars worth of royal assets held by the Thai royal family to be transferred directly to their control, and shares of various Thai conglomerates, including the Siam Cement Public Company, are included in the king’s name. Has been. The royal budget has also increased significantly.

“He has been the most powerful king in terms of official power since 1932,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at Kyoto University’s Southeast Asia Research Center. “Even though his father had tremendous power, he exercised that power primarily through a proxy. What makes (Vajirilongkorn) more powerful is because he exercises his power through himself.”

Wider reform

While monarchy reform has become an increasingly central demand, protests are a gathering ground for greater democratic freedoms, including LGBTQ and women’s rights, education and economic reform.

Activists say they are fed up with injustices such as the continued hold of power in the military through the constitution, the long-term coronavirus condition used to suppress political opposition and freedom of speech, and the disappearance of living democratic activists. exile.

Even high school students participated in the protests, refused to represent the country in school and offered a three-finger salute.

Mahidol University’s Punchada said it is important that the younger generation is pushing for change “because they don’t see their future”.

“We haven’t seen this in 40 years,” she said. “They want a say in what’s going on in their lives.”

Students salute with three fingers at Samsen School to demand less stringent school rules, more tolerance and respect at a protest held in Bangkok on October 2, 2020.

Much of their anger was directed towards Prime Minister Prayut, who adopted the military constitution to secure the post of prime minister in March 2019 through the military-appointed Senate.

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The young people came to the spotlight in the first elections after the coup, voting for a new progressive party and hoping to change the old power structure that favored a few of the wealthy elite.

time Popular Democracy Future Advancement Party Young protesters ordered to disband in February, which won the third most votes in the election, raided the streets with flash mob-style protests, calling the move undemocratic.

“We were angry with the decision,” said Panusaya, who helped organize such protests.

“I felt like people lost the fight again,” she said.

Last month’s protest group Free People led about 1,000 protesters calling for constitutional changes to Congress after deciding to postpone the decision to amend the constitution until November.

“The election system is not really democratic,” says Punchada. “It is not only students, but the middle class and poor people who want to see democratic elections and governments (established) based on a real democratic system.”

Thai monarchy has long been considered godlike. But the protesters say it's a time of change.

For Panusaya, a third-year student studying Sociology and Anthropology at Thammasat University, she’s still heading for a newly discovered notoriety.

“Last year I had little interest in my activities or our activities, and now it has become a symbol of this movement,” she said.

Her family now supports her activities, Panusaya said. “My dad cares so much about me. My parents have supported my decision, but they are worried about my safety.”

However, Panusaya’s protests have raised concerns from the authorities, and we know that speaking publicly about the monarchy can be dangerous.

“Yes, they put people in front of my dorm. I was followed by an unidentified car or motorcycle,” she said.

Thai human rights attorneys reported that 62 people were arrested after three months of protests, some of which were genuinely accused.

Panusaya fully acknowledged what could happen if he continued his demands, but said the reform push was too important.

“I am aware of all the possibilities and problems that may come to me, including my own life,” she said. “We are aiming to spread this monarchy reform ideology as wide as we can. The demands will remain so far.”

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About the Author: Mortimer Nelson

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