BANGKOK: Describing themselves as “human beings, not dust”, thousands of Thai protesters demanding reforms of the monarchy marched to the German embassy in Bangkok on Monday (Oct 26) to put pressure on King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who spends much of his time in Germany.
Germany has said it would be unacceptable for King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 68, to conduct politics there and Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said the European country continued to look into his behaviour during long sojourns in Bavaria.
Months of student-led protests that began by demanding the removal of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, 66, a former military ruler, have become the biggest challenge in decades to a monarchy that the Thai constitution says must be revered.
The Palace has a policy of not commenting to the media and has not done so since the start of the protests.
A statement read at the German embassy from “the People” accused the king of interfering in Thai politics and said that having failed to get “the royal puppet” to listen – a reference to Prayut – they had come to “the puppet owner”.
“The era of change has arrived. The flowing stream of democracy cannot be stopped,” it said. “Down with feudalism, Long live the people.”
A separate letter requested Germany to look into:
– Whether the king conducted state business from there.
– Whether he must to pay inheritance tax there after the death of his father King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016.
– Accusations of human rights abuses.
– The king’s lifestyle in Germany.
It was signed: “Best regards from fellow human beings, not dust” – a reference to a Thai expression that people are but dust under the king’s feet.
Criticising the monarchy can mean a 15-year jail sentence in Thailand, but the protests have swept away the longstanding taboo on discussing it.
Protesters accuse the monarchy of helping to enable decades of domination by military rulers. They also complain about spending on the king’s European visits at a time the coronavirus has hit the tourism-reliant economy hard.
The political crisis in Thailand has also made the king’s presence a challenge for Germany.
“We are monitoring this long-term,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “It will have immediate consequences if there are things that we assess to be illegal.”
The king is currently in Thailand.
In a special session of the Thai parliament to address the crisis, opponents of Prime Minister Prayut urged him to stop using the monarchy to justify his hold on power and resign.
Members of the opposition Move Forward party accused Prayut of trying to use the monarchy to keep power – particularly regarding an incident around a royal motorcade that was used to justify tough emergency measures on Oct 15.
The emergency measures, now lifted, backfired when tens of thousands of people took to the streets.
Prayut rejected a demand from protesters to step down and said last week it was his government’s job to protect the monarchy.
“I’m confident that today, regardless of our different political views, everyone still loves the country,” Prayut said in his opening address.
Prayut seized power in a 2014 coup and protesters accuse him of engineering last year’s election to retain the army’s grip on power. He says the election was fair.
Protesters seek to ensure that the king is clearly under the constitution and also want to reverse changes that gave him personal control of the palace fortune and some army units.
“Reform Monarchy,” read a huge banner put up outside the German embassy.
Before the protesters got there, a couple of dozen royalists assembled, shouting: “Long live the king. We will protect him with our lives.”