Friday, 30 Oct 2020

Protesters openly challenge Thai King in Bangkok march

BANGKOK • Openly challenging the monarchy of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, thousands of protesters marched in Bangkok yesterday to present demands that include a call for reforms to curb his powers.

Protesters have grown bolder during two months of demonstrations against Thailand’s palace and military-dominated establishment, breaking a longstanding taboo on criticising the monarchy – which is illegal under lese majeste laws.

The Royal Palace was not immediately available for comment.

The King, who spends much of his time in Europe, is not in Thailand now.

The marchers were blocked by hundreds of unarmed police manning crowd control barriers.

Protest leaders declared victory after handing the police a letter detailing their demands.

Metropolitan Police Bureau head Phakphong Phongphetra said in a video broadcast from the scene that the letter would be handed to the police headquarters to decide how to proceed.

Mr Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, told the crowd before it dispersed: “Our greatest victory in the two days is showing that ordinary people like us can send a letter to royals.”

At the biggest demonstration in years on Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters cheered calls for reform of the monarchy, for a new Constitution and elections, as well as for the removal of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former junta leader.

Shortly after sunrise yesterday, protesters cemented a plaque near the Grand Palace in Bangkok in an area known as Sanam Luang, or Royal Field. It reads: “At this place, the people have expressed their will: that this country belongs to the people and is not the property of the monarch as they have deceived us.”

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said the police would not use violence against the protesters, and it was up to the police to determine and prosecute any illegal speech.

Bangkok’s deputy police chief Piya Tawichai told reporters that the authorities would need to determine whether the plaque is illegal and if it is, it would be removed.

But not all Thais support the new plaque, which resembles one that commemorated the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 and which was removed from outside the palace in 2017, after King Vajiralongkorn took the throne.

Prominent right-wing politician Warong Dechgitvigrom said the actions of the protesters were inappropriate and that the King was above politics.

“It didn’t achieve anything,” he told Reuters. “These actions are symbolically against the King, but the King is not an opponent.”

The next protest is scheduled for Thursday. Protest leaders also called on Thais to take Oct 14 off work to show their support for change.


Timeline of growing protest movement

Below is a timeline of events since Mr Prayut Chan-o-cha was appointed prime minister after an election in March last year. He rejects accusations the electoral laws were fixed in his favour.

June 9, 2019

The King endorses Mr Prayut as prime minister, keeping him in the post he first took in a 2014 coup.

Nov 20

Constitutional court disqualifies vocal opposition figure Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit as an MP. He disputes the ruling.

Dec 14

Several thousand people demonstrate in Bangkok to protest against Mr Thanathorn’s disqualification and the moves to ban his Future Forward Party.

Feb 21, 2020

Constitutional court bans Future Forward. The next day, hundreds join a protest against the decision.

March 26

The Thai authorities impose a state of emergency to stop the spread of the coronavirus, limiting gatherings and travel.

July 18

The Free Youth group draws about 2,500 to a protest in Bangkok and makes three demands: dissolve Parliament, amend the Constitution and stop harassing critics.

Aug 3

Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa makes an unprecedented call for reform of the monarchy at a protest with a Harry Potter theme.

Aug 10

Thammasat University students list 10 demands for reforming the monarchy, including abolition of the lese majeste law against criticising the King.

Aug 16

Over 10,000 people join a protest at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument.

Sept 19

Tens of thousands protest in the biggest demonstration since the 2014 coup, calling for reforms to the monarchy and Mr Prayut’s removal.

Sept 20

Protesters install a plaque near the Grand Palace in Bangkok with the message that Thailand belongs to the people and not to the monarch. Thousands then march to present their demands in a letter to the King, which they give to the police before dispersing.


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