Thailand protests: exiled critics inspire youngsters to openly take on King Maha Vajiralongkorn

Thailand protests: exiled critics inspire youngsters to openly take on King Maha Vajiralongkorn

  • Protesters say ex-diplomat Pavin and historian Somsak’s social media posts have helped to loosen the taboo on questioning the monarchy
  • Since July 18, a growing number of mostly young demonstrators have gathered on Bangkok’s streets, calling for palace reform

At a university campus demonstration in Bangkok on August 10, the images of two men were projected onto a giant screen against a shimmering golden background as protesters mockingly chanted “Long live the king.”The images were not of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who holds a place of “revered worship” in the Thai constitution and whose image is omnipresent on city streets, schools and businesses, but of two exiles who have openly criticised the monarchy.

Former diplomat Pavin Chachavalpongpun and historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul have not been involved in organising a recent series of demonstrations and show no sign of working together, but some protesters said their writing and social media posts have helped to loosen the taboo on questioning the monarchy, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison under Thailand’s lese-majesty law.

“The fact that the public discusses the monarchy institution more is because of them,” said Panusaya Sithijirawattankul, a 21-year old student at Thammasat University in Bangkok.

“Previously, we were unable to say any of this and if we did, we would risk becoming another exile,” said Panusaya, who read out a 10-point demand for palace reform at the August 10 protest. It was based on a reform proposal by Somsak, which he wrote a decade ago and revised and published on Facebook last year, where Panusaya first saw it.

Somsak’s proposal called for the abolition of the lese majesty law and the end of what he called “one-sided public relations campaigns promoting the monarchy,” among other things.