Protests Against the Monarchy Signal a Break With the Past
Since February, protesters have taken to the streets of Thailand to demand reform of the country’s political system. Demonstrations swelled in recent months as activists grew more forthright in criticizing the government and the monarchy—an institution traditionally held sacrosanct. Thousands of demonstrators faced off with police this week in front of the garrison of a military regiment under the direct control of King Vajiralongkorn. In a bid to quash the protests, authorities have harnessed Thailand’s sweeping lese majesty laws, which prohibit criticism of the royal family, to bring charges against five leading activists.
Thailand has experienced political convulsions before. In the past 15 years, street protests have precipitated the rise and fall of two governments, in 2006 and 2014, respectively. But the latest unrest reveals a revolutionary cultural shift in the country. In the past, the principal battle was among political factions vying for power. Today, Thai citizens are openly challenging the monarchy. An institution that was once untouchable has fallen from its pedestal and become subject to public debate, scorn, and even repudiation.