Conflicts & War

Thai monarchy not a problem, but reformists feel slighted by king: activist

By Lobsang DS Subirana and Nattakarn Jeamrugeekul

Bangkok, Nov 6 (efe-epa).- Thai reformists aren’t looking for the abolition of the country’s monarchy, but feel snubbed by comments the king made recently concerning them, according to an emerging figure of Thailand’s recent student-led pro-democracy protests.

Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon, summoned Thursday for the third time to answer sedition charges over a recent demonstration she led demanding monarchic reform, said in an interview with EFE that protesters felt slighted by the position King Vajiralongkorn took in the matter last month.

“If (we) think about it from the protesters’ perspective, we probably feel a little slighted because the royal institution made it very obvious whose side they are on and what side they are ignoring,” Patsaravalee said earlier this week, adding that she thought it would “lead to several turning points in Thai politics, which is a very sensitive issue.”

The 25-year-old civil engineering student recently sat with EFE to discuss the previously unthinkable topic of Thailand’s monarchy, as well as demonstrators’ demands, the structure of current protest and how they differ from what the country has previously witnessed.

The king made the comments on Oct. 23, personally thanking and praising a man at a royalist parade who had stood in Bangkok’s Pinklao area defending the monarchy and squaring up to pro-democracy protesters while holding a portrait of the late King Bhumibol.

“I think we’ll have to wait and see. In the past, these sort of things had never happened,” she said, referring to recent behavior by the royal family in which they greeted and took selfies with people as they did Sunday during a royalist parade. The occasion also produced an unprecedented doorstep interview the king gave to a foreign correspondent.

In it, he said he had “no comment” about protesters who demanded reform before retracting and saying he “loved them all the same,” adding that Thailand was the “land of compromise” when asked if there was room to reach an understanding between reformists and royalists.

It comes at a time in which for the first time, open scrutiny has been leveled at the country’s powerful monarch, Patsaravalee said, as more people are wanting to know the influential monarchy’s role in Thai politics.

The royal institution in Thailand is protected from criticism by one of the world’s harshest lese-majeste laws, with insults to the king, queen, princess, heir apparent or regent carrying punishments of up to 15 years in jail per count. Critics in the past have been jailed for as little as making sarcastic remarks about the late king’s dog on social media.

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