Just recently, amid a global pandemic, thousands of Thai citizens rallied to the streets to call for constitutional reform. This may be considered as one of the largest anti-government protests the country has seen through the decades. Now, authorities are scrambling to douse the flames of the protests.
What are Thai Fighting For?
A good majority of the protesters are the Thai Youth, and unrest has been going on since February of this year. But, many people are asking, what are these people fighting for? Is it the total abolition of the monarchy? Actually, it’s an overall grievance against the government system, not just the monarchy.
Their first demand is the dissolution of the parliament. This is in conjunction with constitutional reforms. Also, protests want the government to be less tormenting to critics. Although the demands and voices are different from a wide perspective, the bottom line is the Thais are protesting for democracy.
It is an important question to ask – are the Thais ready for the abolition of the monarchy? There may be mixed reactions to this. In fact, many Thais want democracy and monarchy to co-exist. Democratic monarchy is not something in the books but there can be a way around this.
There are many countries in the world that practice constitutional monarchies, just like they have in Thailand. There are also elective monarchies where the King holds significant power in politics but the seat of power is elected by the citizens (instead of inherited). And, lastly, there are ceremonial monarchies where the monarch holds minimal or no direct political power.
Growing Disdain due to the Pandemic
The first massive protests happened in Bangkok in July of this year. Tens of thousands of Thais have joined in the protests despite current laws on the ban on public gatherings due to the pandemic. Prior to this, the Thais do not even dare to criticize the rule of the monarchy. Hate for the King was never spoken in Thailand, it was illegal and could send any person to jail. What motivates these people to finally speak out against the monarchy may have some deep longing and desperation for change.
It was widely reported all around the world how much disappointment the Thais had with their monarch. This is after widespread reports of his luxurious pandemic life in Germany as soon as the Coronavirus hit the country. There are allegations that he immediately left the country to the comforts of the German countryside, without even addressing the fears and worries of his countrymen.
The King succeeded his father in 2016 and it is widely known that the former king is highly revered by the Thais. This behavior he showed during the coronavirus is a terrible scandal. In fact, it is so scandalous that activists are ignoring the punishment for speaking against the king.
In addition to this, the King is not the only one to blame for these protests. The recent political history of Thailand is long and complicated, it is not unusual for the country to have political unrest. In fact, it is known that the military seized power in 2014 and the country held its first-ever elections in 2019. The Thais were hoping that the elections change the political atmosphere in the country. However, the man who led the coup in 2014 still found his way to win the seat as prime minister.
Punishment for Going Against the King
To speak ill of the king can lead to devastating punishment. This is known as the lese-majeste, where Thais who insults or threatens the king (or any member of the monarchy) could face up to 15 years of prison time. Since the protests began this month, not many arrests have been made. However, there seems to movement within the government to gain warrants against activist leaders and lead protestors.
Interestingly, the King may be more progressive than we think. The law is not often used in recent years. There are multiple reports that lese-majeste cases in Thai courts are dismissed. In fact, in early 2020, there are reports that the lese-majeste laws are currently suspended.
Although such a suspension could prove beneficial to the King, political experts think that free speech may overflow from the mouths and minds of the Thais. Thailand has numerous laws that echo the lese-majeste laws. An example would be the Computer Crime Act which is a very similar law to the less-majeste. The difference between the two – the latter sounds less draconian in modern times. This is why Thais should still be careful of what they say.
There are two probable reasons why Thai protesters could be sent to jail. The first one, one that all Thais know too well, is that they can’t speak ill of the King. The second one, which is surprisingly the main charges being used now against protestors, is that they are breaching security and coronavirus protocols that banned public gatherings.