The Fall Of The Thai Constitutional Monarchy
Last week, in Thailand, three student protesters were arrested for dissenting the Government and the Monarchy. Crowds of 3,000- 4,000 protesters gathered at Thammasat University in Bangkok, and many more met at Bangkok's Democracy Monument, participating in one of the biggest demonstrations in Thailand since 2014. But, how did we get here?
Thai citizens are demanding the resignation of their “militant government”, political reforms, a new or amended constitution, and an end to the alleged harassment that the opposition faces at the hands of those in power. The resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former military government leader and winner of a highly disputed election, reigns as a dominant agenda because many are now calling for the restriction of the Monarchy.
This stance has caused an uproar due to the holy power and intuition that the monarchy holds. Supporters of the Royal family held up Thailand’s flag and golden framed pictures of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, monitoring the protests. "I don't care if they protest against the government, but they cannot touch the monarchy," said the leader of a royalist group. According to PM Prayuth, some of the demands towards the monarchy have “gone too far”. Prayuth, along with many other members of the government, has stated that he believes critics are threats to the monarchy.
The spark that fuelled these protests is the aforementioned arrest of three student activists over “sedition and violation of coronavirus regulations”. These student leaders have been released on bail, but further investigation is still pending. In addition, the police say that arrest warrants have been issued for an additional twelve protest leaders.
Many fear that soon people will be arrested for violating the “lese majeste” law- a law where the offender is charged with treason against the monarchy and can serve as many as fifteen years in prison. Under this law, remarks that offend the royals are banned. Even though the PM says that the king has asked for this law not to be used, it still doesn't affect its constitutional power and how it practically bans any and all anti-monarchy protests.
Fortunately, the government hasn't used force and it seems as though they don't intend to...as long as the protests are peaceful.
However, there have been certain suspicious happenings such as the disappearance of many historical democratic statues in Bangkok and reports of the Monarchy asking certain media companies to remove the protesters’ demands from their articles.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn has called for “order and peace” in the country. In a 2019 order, he was given two army units for his personal command, and a 2017 law gave him full control of the Crown's extensive property holdings. The reversal of this is one among the protesters' demands along with the assurance that such an action will not be taken by the King in the future.
On Wednesday, the King made his first public appearance since this issue flared up to swear in PM Prayuth’s cabinet. This swearing-in was a consequence of the resignation of six cabinet members due to internal dispute and the protest movement. He wished the cabinet "good health and wisdom to have the strength to perform your duties according to your oaths" and “the happiness of the people.”
The King was preceded by his father, whom many revered as a good man, but the current King's actions have inspired protesters to strive for democracy- much like their forefathers did in 1932.
On the anniversary of the 1932 protests, which led to the conception of a constitution in Thailand, protest leaders played a video that tugged at the heartstrings of more than just the thirty-forty protesters present there. It resembled the speech made by People’s Party leaders after they toppled the government. This moving address affirmed what the citizens felt so deeply in their hearts. Their struggle echoes that of protesters in Lebanon and the suffering that people face across the World. The courage and drive that they feel clearly tells us one thing: it's time for a revolution.
Reporter: Katyayani Nath