Thai students hold protest as parliament debates constitutional reforms

Bangkok, Sep 24 (efe-epa).- Hundreds of protesters on Thursday gathered in front of the Thai parliament to demand democratic reforms while lawmakers debated a series of proposals to amend the constitution.

The demonstration, organized by student groups that have been leading an anti-government protest movement since July 18, demanded a reform of the constitution drafted by a military junta that ruled the country after a coup in 2014 until last year.

More than 30,000 people had joined a similar protest in Bangkok over the weekend.

Student leader Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapaikijseree tweeted that if the senators blocked the constitutional amendments, it would mean they were “closing the parliamentary door.”

In such a scenario, he said: “We will take to the street again.”

The constitutional debate includes six proposals, one by the ruling coalition and five from the opposition, which will be voted upon by around 500 elected lawmakers of the lower house and 250 senators of the upper house handpicked by the military junta.

As the ruling coalition enjoys a majority both in the house of representatives as well as among the non-elected senators, it is unlikely that the opposition-backed proposal to form an assembly for drafting a new constitution would be approved.

Both blocks have proposed establishing a constituent assembly. While the government’s plan includes a body formed by 150 directly elected members and 50 selected indirectly, the opposition has demanded that all the members be elected.

The parliamentary debate and protest have coincided with a visit by Thai King Vajiralongkorn – who spends most of the time in Germany – for the death anniversary of his paternal grandfather Prince Mahidol, the birthday of Queen Mother Sirikit, and the Thai mother’s day. That is Vaijiralongkorn’s first visit to the country since Aug. 12.

The monarch’s absence and inaction during the pandemic and his residence abroad have evoked unprecedented criticism from the students’ movement in a country where the monarchy is powerful.

A major demand of the protesters is limiting the power of the monarchy, subjecting it to constitutional controls, and ending the lèse majesté law that lays down prison terms of up to 15 years and other punishments for criticizing the royal household.

The current monarch inherited the throne after the death of King Bhumibol in 2016 but has not inherited the widespread popularity of his father. He ruled for seven decades and is revered as the father of the nation and enjoys an almost semi-divine status.

However, Vajiralongkorn, who as king is officially “above politics,” has managed to consolidate his power by increasing his influence over the army, and has taken control of five state agencies responsible for the security and royal affairs.

In 2017, the parliament gave the king personal control over the Crown Property Office and ended the requirement for him to name a regent while being abroad. EFE-EPA


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