The royal palace is the birthplace of King Waziralongkorn of Thailand, who, as Crown Prince, accepted an official invitation to the crown in 2016 after the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, four years ago on Tuesday.
Waziralongkorn – who spends most of his time abroad – returned to Thailand this week for royal duties.
On Tuesday, clashes erupted between anti-monarchy protesters and police at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, which has been the venue for months of protests. Police said 21 people were arrested.
Demonstrators partially blocked the road near the monument and set up a barricade, which police tried to clear.
Later, Waziralongkorn’s convoy led past protesters for the first time. Protesters chanted “Release our friends” and saluted three fingers from the Hunger Games movies – a popular symbol of protest.
The deputy police spokeswoman, Colonel Kissana Fatanacharoin, confirmed that she had been arrested for protesting without permission and had been detained for violating the “Public Assembly Act”.
Protesters plan to gather at the memorial and march to the prime minister’s office on Wednesday and camp there. If they go ahead they will face conflict from pro-monarchy groups who have planned resistance.
Experts say this week could be a waterfall for the protest movement seeking an end to the new constitution, the dissolution of parliament and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, as well as threatening government critics. Many are also calling for a true constitutional monarchy in a democratic system.
Protest leaders are expected to vote in large numbers on Wednesday, but they are working hard for reforms of the monarchy, and there are questions about whether people will take to the streets during the monsoon and during the October rains. The king is in town, which marks the last King’s Memorial Day, and Wednesday marks the anniversary of the 1973 mass uprising against the military dictatorship.
“I hope the government will control this protest very strictly,” said Punchada Sirivunnabood, an associate professor of politics at Mahidol University’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities.
Those who call for royal reform are facing lengthy prison sentences. Thai citizens respect the king without question and criticizing the king, queen or heir is punishable by some of the strictest Les Majest laws in the world.
“It is not now or forever. The root cause of the political problems that have arisen from this organization is that we can not dance around and ignore it anymore,” said 21-year-old student Panusaya Sitijiravattanakul. The new student movement. “Otherwise we will end up in the same vicious political cycle again. Rebellions after revolts with approval from the king.”
It was a hot August night when Panusaya, nicknamed Rang, first got on stage and presented a list of 10-point demands for reforms to the monarchy.
These demands included the abolition of laws such as the monarchy being accountable to the constitution, the monarchy, the new constitution, the abolition of royal offices, the overthrow of the military-led government, and the abolition of the royal guardians.
“I collapsed several times while reading the statement. I could not feel my legs and arms,” she told CNN. “I was apprehensive about the audience reaction that night.”
But the crowd did not go. Panusaya hit a nerve.
Although the monarchy ended in 1932, the King of Thailand still had considerable political influence. The image of the former king Bhumibol, who was a stable father figure ruled by Buddhist principles during decades of political turmoil, and who worked to improve ordinary Nice lives with great moral authority, has been carefully cultivated.
Thailand is no stranger to political upheaval and bloody protests. There have been 13 successful military coups since 1932, with current Prime Minister and former Army Chief Prayut Chan-o-Cha taking office in 2014.
Bhumibol established strong ties with these previous military rulers, giving them legitimacy in exchange for the monarchy’s consistent support.
Panusaya and her protest group, the United Front of Tammasat and Demonstration (UFTD), said such a rule was unconstitutional. On September 19, she stood up again and read the list of reforms made to the King personally. The next day, with thousands more still out, the group handed over the demands to the police, who aimed to hand it over to the Privy Council, the King’s advisers.
“I want him to hear what we want, our grievances. I want people to know that they have the right to speak with the king. Everyone should be equal,” she said.
Although Bhumibol was truly loved by many in the country, his son King Waziralongkorn, who was crowned in May 2019, did not have the same moral authority.
Waziralongkorn is believed to spend most of his time abroad and did not attend much of public life in Thailand as the country was gripped by the coronavirus epidemic.
Last week, German Foreign Minister Wazir Long Korn told parliament that politics should not be conducted from a European country.
Despite Thailand’s success in controlling the spread of coronavirus, the economic impact has been severe. Protesters, who say the fiery economy gives them fewer job opportunities, began to examine the king’s enormous wealth and power.
Vaziralongkorn consolidated his power by expanding his own designated military unit, the Kings Guard. He also greatly increased his personal wealth – by amending the Crown Property Act, which allowed him to transfer directly into his control the billions of dollars worth of royal assets held by the Thai Crown, and shares in various Thai conglomerates, including Siam Cement Public Company and Siam Commercial Bank Public Company – were named after King. The royal budget also increased significantly.
“He has been the most powerful king in terms of official authority since 1932,” said Pavin Chachawalpangpun, an associate professor at the Center for Southeast Asia Studies at Kyoto University. “Although his father had enormous power, he mostly used that power through proxies. (Wazirilongkorn) What makes it even more powerful is that he uses his power by himself.”
Reform of the monarchy has become a growing central demand, while protests have been a rally for greater democratic freedom, including LGBTQ and women’s rights, as well as education and economic reforms.
Activists say they are fed up with injustices such as the continuation of military power by the constitution, the protracted coronavirus emergency – which will be used to stifle political opposition and libertarianism – and the disappearance of living democracy activists. In exile.
High school students also joined the protests, refusing to stand for the national anthem in schools and raising a three-finger salute.
Mahidol University’s Punchada said the younger generation is pushing for change, saying “they don’t see their future”.
“We haven’t seen it in 40 years,” she says. “They want to tell you what’s going on in their lives.”
Much of their anger has been on the Prime Minister’s initiative, allowing the military-drafted constitution to take over the premier post in March 2019 through a military-appointed senate.
In this post-coup election the youth made their mark, voted for progressive new parties and hoped to change the old power structures that favored some affluent sections.
Panusaya, who helped organize such a protest, said, “We are outraged by this decision.”
“I feel like people have lost their fight again,” she said.
Last month, the protest group led about 1,000 protesters in the Free People’s Parliament demanding a constitutional change, voting to delay a decision on whether to amend the constitution until November.
“The electoral system is not really democratic,” Punchada said. “It’s not just the students, the middle class and the poor who want to see democratic elections and the government (built) on a true democratic system.”
For Panusaya, a third-year student studying sociology and anthropology at Tammasat University, she is wrapping her head around her newly discovered notoriety.
“Last year, the focus just shone on me or our activities. Now, I have become a symbol of this movement,” she said.
Her family supports her activism, for now, Panusaya said. “My father is very worried about me. My parents support my decision, but they are worried about my safety.”
But the Panusaya protests attracted alarming attention from the authorities and she knew it was dangerous to speak openly about the monarchy.
“Yes, they put people in front of my hostel. Cars or motorcycles that didn’t recognize me followed,” she said.
Thai lawyers for human rights have reportedly arrested 62 people during a three-month protest, some facing treason charges.
Panusaya said he fully agrees with what will happen if his demands continue, but is very important for reforms.
“I know all the opportunities and difficulties that come my way, including my own life,” she says. “We aim to extend this monarchical reform ideology as far as we can. The demands remain the same at this time.”