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Not Just A Reform, But A Revolution: Thais Go Beyond Protesting The Government

Protesters look to put monarchy under the constitution but officials refuse to support

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Chatwan Mongkol
Chatwan Mongkol
A freelance journalist based in Bangkok, Thailand covering Thai politics

THAILAND. Pathum Thani. After student-led protesters called for a monarchy reform by outlining 10 demands to co-exist with the democratic system and monarchy institution, government officials, politicians, political parties, elected representatives, and university officials refused to support their movement and threatened them with legal actions.

On the first day of a new semester, Thammasat University (TU) did not only fill with students but also with several thousand anti-authoritarianism protesters who came out to echo three demands while adding 10 additional demands for the monarchy institution.

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Students of TU and its networks held a demonstration on 10 Aug at the university. According to the organizer, 15,000 people joined, which made it the largest anti-government protest so far this year.

Monarchy under a democratic constitution

Besides three main demands for the government — the dissolution of the parliament, a more democratic constitution, and an end to state harassment on dissidents — the organizers publicly criticized the monarchy despite the lèse-majesté law, which could put violators in jail for up to 15 years.

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“The people should acknowledge that the king of our country is not above the politics but rather has been the root of political problems,” the declaration read.

Several thousand protesters are doing three-finger salute known as a dictatorship-opposed sign in Thailand. Photo Credit: Prachatai

According to Prachatai English, their 10 demands are the abolition of the lèse-majesté law, the abolition of the law that bans legal accusation against the monarch, a clear division between the crown’s assets and the king’s personal assets, abolition the royal office units with a clear duty, cessation of all giving and receiving of donations by royal charity funds, cessation of the exercise of the royal prerogative to express political opinions in public, cessation of education that one-sidedly glorifies the monarchy, the facts about the murders of people that criticized the monarchy, and an end of royal endorsement for further coups.

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The declaration said these are not to topple the institution but it is a proposal for it to continue to be esteemed under the democratic system.

Towards the end of the event, the organizer announced that they were going to hold another demonstration at Lumphini Park in Bangkok on 12 Aug, on Queen Mother’s (Sirikit’s) birthday, but later canceled on 11 Aug because of security concerns.

The demonstration also consisted of speakers from many groups including labor rights unions, and high school student rights groups. Human Rights Lawyer Anon Nampa and University Student Panupong Jadnok also took the stage after their arrests on Friday (7 Aug).

“Do not insult the people”

A hashtag #อย่าจาบจ้วงประชาชน (#DoNotInsultThePeople) was trending on Twitter a day after the event as government officials, politicians, political parties, elected representatives, and university officials condemned the demonstration as an offensive act to the monarchy institution and the Thai people.

TU issued a statement expressing its regret of what happened and offered an apology. The statement stated that the organizers initially said they would only advocate for the three current-administration-related demands but it went beyond that. The university said individuals must be responsible for the opinions they have expressed.

TU Vice President Prinya Thaewanarumitkul said even though the university supports free speech, speeches should not violate any law, especially with the sensitive topic that could lead to a division among people in the society. Thaewanarumitkul, as the person who granted organizers permission, also offered an apology.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he is aware of the event and its 10 demands and said he is feeling “uneasy” with those demands.

The Palang Pracharat Party, the government party, also responded similarly. 

“Those demands will lead to division within the nation, which might lead to violence,” the party spokesperson said while calling the university officials to hold responsibility.

Pheu Thai Party, an opposition party that has been clear on its political stance that it is anti-authoritarianism, disagreed with what was said at the demonstration. Sudarat Keyuraphan, its chief strategist, said protesters should leave the monarchy out of this as it could lead to violence, which will result in another coup. This sparked anger.

Senators proposed dealing with protesters with legal actions

Prachatai reported that Kamnoon Sidhisamarn and Somchai Sawangkarn, two military-appointed senators, proposed the parliament to use legal actions with protesters. Sidhisamarn said what happened at the demonstration has gone beyond protesting the government and demanding a new constitution; he said it was too aggressive.

Sidhisamarn added that the demonstration at TU has mocked the long-practiced and most-respected tradition through two suspects that were arrested then released, and a recorded video of a political refugee with lèse-majesté law charges, Pavin Chachavalpongun, who resided in Japan.

Sawangkarn suggested seven “strict tactics” to deal with the protest leaders: Anti-money laundering and special investigation offices to check all the supports behind every political movement, Digital Ministry and technology crime police to deal with illegal content, police to withdraw bail for Napma and Jadnok, universities to be responsible for any further events, the media to stop reporting on the event, Foreign Ministry to deal with asylum-granted countries as political refugees in those countries attack the Thai national security from abroad, and finally for everyone to debate and compromise.

What protesters did was not illegal

As the students believe the proposal is not an insult to the monarchy, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights stands with them.

“Freedom of expression over the monarchy institution whether it be on its expenses, its power, duties, and behavior as the king, or system of the state must be able to mention. Because the monarchy institution is an organization under the constitution,” TLHR statement read.

Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the progressive and opposition Move Forward Party, insisted that the 10 demands are not threats to the monarchy but they are an inconvenient truth that people must be able to debate.

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