Last night, Monday August 10, 2020, Thammasat University students, under the Allied Thammasat and Protest Group (กลุ่มแนวร่วมธรรมศาสตร์และการชุมนุม), called for an urgent monarchical reform in Thailand. There were approximately 10,000 participants as estimated by the student leaders, in contrast with the estimate offered of around 2,500 people from the Thai Police. Many protestors held anti-government signs as well as those critical of the army chief, General Apirat Kongsompong. They also called for investigation of those dissidents across the Thai borders who were abducted, forcedly disappeared and killed.
There were about 10 speakers on the protest stage, from Thammasat and Mahasarakham Universities. Vocational students, known as “Cogs of Democracy” or ฟันเฟืองประชาธิปไตย, served as guards for the protesters. Showcasing on the stage, it was a ‘Speakers’ Corner’ for unrestricted speech and music from student bands. The two key speakers, laywer-turned-activist, Arnon Numpa, and student Phanupong Channok, both who had been charged last week for violating the State of Emergency, continued to address the issue pertaining the political role of the monarchy.
The speakers stressed that the following demands had to be met: Separation of the king’s personal wealth from the royal palace’s vast fortune held by the Crown Property Bureau; forbidding the monarchy from playing any role in politics or endorsing any military coups; abolishing the excessive glorification of the monarchy; and investigating the deaths of critics of the monarchy.
The constitutional monarchy must mean, the monarchy being under the constitution. Royal activities which are political in their nature must be loudly questioned by the public from now on.” He also said that, “This is the final straw. Thai people have been intimidated whenever they speak out about the monarchy. From now on, we must be able to address this issue openly, with respect for our own dignity and respect for the monarchy.
Toward the end of the gathering, FORSEA’s Pavin Chachavalpongpun appeared on the giant screen, offering his support for the movement. He said that it has been almost 10 years since he started his campaign on the reform of the monarchy. Today, it bears fruits. “I would never have imagined Thailand would come this far. We must be able to talk about the monarchy more straightforwardly, since the monarchy is the crux of the political problems. All roads lead to the monarchy. Without discussing it, one would never be able to tackle the Thai problems”, he said.
The protests received a scathing response from the right-wing, pro-monarchy factions of Thai society, which called for Thai authorities to charge them with insulting the monarchy. The barbaric Lèse-majesté law is still valid in Thailand and occasionally used to undermine political opponents. They also warned that the students’ call could see a backlash, referring to the Thammasat University massacre in 1976, a violent crackdown by Thai police and lynching by right-wing paramilitaries and bystanders against leftist protesters who had occupied Bangkok’s Thammasat University (Official death-toll: 46 (both sides), unofficial death-toll: 100+).