By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela
Bangkok, Nov 11 (efe-epa).- One of Thailand’s youngest opposition members of parliament believes student protest leaders who broke taboos by calling for monarchic reform have achieved changes in the behavior of the royal family deemed unthinkable six months ago.
Rangsiman Rome, a young politician and former student leader of protests against the last military junta (2014-2019), made the remarks in a recent interview with EFE at the office of his party, Move Forward, in the Thai parliament.
“The king and the royal family (now) try to be close to the people. For example, to sign [autographs], take selfies with the people and even touch and shake hands in the public space. It didn’t happen six months ago,” Rangsiman, 28, told EFE.
“I think that the reform process has started already. If you ask me if it’s possible or not – yes, it’s possible. But it’s never finished.”
Recently, while greeting supporters in Bangkok, King Maha Vajiralongkorn told a foreign correspondent during an unprecedented doorstep interview that Thailand is the “land of compromise.”
It may seem a small gesture, but Rangsiman said the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej was treated almost like an untouchable deity and that these changes in mood matter because Thai monarchs exercise their power mainly indirectly or unofficially.
Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the throne in 2016, had the constitution changed so that he would not have to appoint a regent during his stays in Germany, where he lives much of the year.
Later he also took personal control of key military units in the capital and of all Crown Property Bureau assets, estimated to be valued at more than $35 billion.
The last mass student protest was dissolved Sunday with water cannons when demonstrators tried to reach the Grand Palace to deliver mailboxes full of letters addressed to the king.
The student-led protest movement that began in February and gained steam in July calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha to allow for democratic reforms in the country.
They want to reduce the power of the military, which has taken power in 13 coups since 1939, but the most audacious demand is for the reform of the monarchy, protected by a strict lese majeste law that carries sentences of up to 15 years in prison.
“The students don’t demand a republic. What they demand is a constitutional monarchy, which means that the monarchy must be democratic,” Rangsiman explained.
“What they mean is the monarchy [has] to have transparency,” added the MP of Move Forward, which emerged from the outlawed Future Forward, a young party that gained widespread support during the 2019 general election among young people for its progressive agenda.
Before becoming a politician, Rangsiman was a student activist who did not hesitate to take on authorities.
He and his colleagues from Thammasat University were the first to come out to protest the 2014 military coup led by Prayut and to adopt the three-finger salute from “The Hunger Games” film franchise that has become the symbol of the student protests.
Wearing the same black-rimmed glasses as back then, he has swapped t-shirts for the suit and tie required by parliamentary etiquette, but still vividly remembers the 24 days he spent in prison for defying the military government.
Rangsiman, who attended some recent protests as an observer, claims student leaders now suffer even more harassment than under the military junta, as they are arrested repeatedly and could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison for alleged sedition.
The MP also warned of a risk that the government could promote conflict to apply draconian measures or even encourage a military coup such as that of 2014.
“The government, they make people have conflict between people, (so that) the government or military have the right to control the country,” Rangsiman said, referring to the protests that preceded the last military coup six years ago.