Protesters in Thailand have installed a plaque declaring the country “belongs to the people”, in a bold show of opposition to the monarchy on Sunday.
Student activists cemented a commemorative “People’s Plaque” close to a field known as Sanam Luang, or Royal Field near Bangkok’s Grand Palace in the latest challenge to Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Student-led protests calling for reform of the country’s monarchy and political system have been going on since July and the protests over the weekend were some of the largest in years, with thousands defying authorities to demand change.
Authorities say 18,000 people joined Saturday’s demonstration, although others give higher figures. Many stayed to continue the protest into Sunday, before dispersing.
Their calls for royal reform are particularly sensitive in Thailand, where criticism of the monarchy is punishable by long prison sentences.
Protesters are also demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who took power in a 2014 coup and won disputed elections last year.
The plaque, dated September 20, 2020, proclaims in Thai: “The people have expressed the intention that this country belongs to the people, and not the king.”
Organisers said the plaque was a replacement for another one marking the end of absolute monarchy in the 1930s, which went missing in 2017.
Cheers erupted as activists installed the new plaque, with protesters chanting: “Down with feudalism, long live the people.”
Police did not intervene and there were no reports of violence. A spokesman for the Thai government told Reuters news agency police would not use violence against protesters.
Later on, protesters who had planned to march to Government House were blocked from doing so by hundreds of unarmed police manning crowd control barriers.
Instead, the protesters marched to hand a letter of demands for reform of the monarchy to the king’s Royal Guard police.
Protest leaders declared victory after saying Royal Guard police had agreed to pass on their demands to police headquarters. There has been no comment from the police.
“Our greatest victory in the two days is to show that ordinary people like us can send a letter to royals,” protest leader Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak said, telling crowds to return for another demonstration next week.
Thailand has a long history of political unrest and protest, but a new wave began in February after a court ordered a fledgling pro-democracy opposition party to dissolve.
The demands of protesters took an unprecedented turn last month when a 10-point call for reform to the monarchy was read out at one rally.
The move sent shockwaves through a country which is taught from birth to revere and love the monarchy and fear the consequences of talking about it.
Each of Thailand’s 19 constitutions of modern times has stated, at the top, that: “The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship” and that “no person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action”.
These provisions are backed by article 112 of the criminal code, known as the lese-majeste law, which subjects anyone criticising the royal family to secret trials and long prison sentences.
The definition of what constitutes an insult to the monarchy is unclear and human rights groups say the law has often been used as a political tool to curb free speech and opposition calls for reform and change.
The law had been increasingly enforced in the years after the 2014 coup, although it has slowed since King Vajiralongkorn let it be known he no longer wanted it to be so widely used.
But observers say the government has used other legal routes, including the sedition law, to target dissent. (Source: BBC)