Former Thai opposition leader Thanathorn supports call for monarchy reform


The former leader of the now-disbanded Future Forward Party have expressed support for student protesters calling for reforms to the monarchy, saying the Thais must tackle an “inconvenient truth” for their country.

Thailand’s prominent tycoon and former opposition party leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, on Friday said frank discussions are needed about a ballooning budget for the monarchy and expanding powers wielded by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Thanathorn said the reforms are a necessary process of transforming Thailand into a democratic country in which the monarchy would “stay above politics.”

Talk of the monarchy, and possible reforms to it, have long been seen as a taboo in the country. But as anti-government protests gathered steam in recent months, calls for reforms have also become louder.

Thanathorn’s Future Forward Party partly played a role in sparking the current wave of student-led protests.

In 2019, the party won dozens of seats in the country’s first general election since a 2014 coup on an anti-military-rule platform, instantly becoming a major force in Thai politics.

In February this year, however, the Constitutional Court ordered the opposition party dissolved over political funds loaned from Thanathorn that were deemed illegal.

Students and others began holding anti-government rallies in protest, preparing the ground for larger student-led demonstrations that now attract tens of thousands of people.

Thanathorn, who was himself disqualified from serving as a lawmaker last year over an election law violation, remains popular among young Thais.

According to Thanathorn, who now serves as an adviser to a House of Representatives committee tasked with scrutinizing appropriations, one of the issues related to the palace is its spending that is big and not transparent, and that cannot be scrutinized.

He said the palace owns a total of 38 planes and helicopters, requiring huge maintenance costs. The royal household office will have a budget of 8.9 billion baht (US$281.5 million) next fiscal year, more than double the size in fiscal 2018, he added.

But the office does not disclose details to the public or the parliament.

“If you take taxpayers’ money, you have to be transparent. If you don’t want to open your spending to the public, use your own money,” Thanathorn said.

The 41-year-old billionaire emphasized that the reforms he is calling for do not include the monarchy’s abolishment. He said he sees placing the monarchy truly under the Constitution as the best way to preserve it as an institution.

“As a constitutional monarchy, the monarchy has to be above politics,” Thanathorn said. “Bringing the monarchy into politics is dangerous as otherwise people would start criticizing the monarchy.”

Thanathorn praised the students who have taken to streets calling for reforms to the monarchy. “I admire their courage…Monarchy reform has been in public consciousness for decades, but no one dared to raise it.”

Thanathorn explained that fear of reprisal and self-censorship had long stifled talk of reform. Under Thailand’s lese majeste law, criticism of the monarchy is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Besides monarchy reforms, students are calling for political changes, including an exit of the government led by former junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha and constitutional reforms.

King MahaVajiralongkorn, who succeeded the reign in 2016, has taken personal ownership of royal assets that had been managed by the Crown Property Bureau.

The 68-year-old king has also placed key army units under his direct command. He spends most of his time in Germany. (Source: Mainichi Japan)