Thousands of Thai protesters took to the streets of Bangkok on Wednesday night to demand that King Maha Vajiralongkorn relinquish control of a royal fortune valued at tens of billions of dollars, and divert their protest movement directly into the immense wealth of the monarchy that was untouched before.
Protesters have already violated old taboos by criticizing the king and police have called several well-known protest leaders before the rally on charges of insulting the monarchy – the first time the law has been used since early 2018.
At least 8,000 protesters – many of them brandishing the yellow duck that has become the movement’s newest symbol – gathered near the headquarters of the Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) to protest the secrecy surrounding the king’s assets.
They chose the location after authorities erected shipping containers and barbed wire barriers around their original target – the Royal Property Office. SCB is the largest bank in Thailand, and the king, who holds a 23 percent stake in the bank, is its largest shareholder.
“We don’t know how to manage it. How he uses it,” Gail, a 53-year-old consultant in Bangkok, told AFP news agency, where she expressed concern about controlling the royal assets. Their total value has not been announced, but is estimated at more than $ 30 billion. Which would make the king the richest king in the world.
“He should live with a tough economy. He doesn’t care about the economic situation. He doesn’t care about the welfare of the people,” she added.
The youth-led protests began in July with demands for a new constitution, the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, and the reform of the untouched monarchy.
The demonstrations were largely peaceful, but there were many loudspeakers as the protest broke up on Wednesday, and medics said a man was shot. A police officer said that clashes appeared to have occurred between competing groups of student professionals.
“Millions of families are struggling, so how can we give taxpayer money to just one family to spend it lavishly?” Said Barrett Schwarak, among the protest leaders facing charges of insulting a monarchy?
– Richard Barrow from Thailand (@ RichardBarrow) November 25, 2020
The protesters want to make the king more accountable under the constitution as well as reverse changes that have given him personal control of not only the royal wealth but some units of the army.
The finance minister headed the bureau’s board of directors in an arrangement that gave a spark of public scrutiny.
The palace has not commented since the protests began, but when the king was asked about the demonstrators recently, he said that they are loved “despite everything.”
Some of the king’s critics quoted these words sarcastically after the summons for insulting the monarchy, which Prayut said in June was not used at the king’s request.
Thailand has one of the strictest laws of royal self-defect in the world. It is routinely interpreted to include any criticism of the monarchy – including content posted or shared on social media.
Police sources told Reuters news agency that 15 protest leaders are facing charges that they must acknowledge by the end of the month.
Government spokesman Anucha Purabachisri told AFP that the authorities were “increasingly concerned about attempts to undermine the rule of law” and would use “all relevant laws” to pursue rioters.
This is the first time that the law has been used since early 2018. International human rights groups have urged the authorities not to prosecute.
“The international community should urge the Thai government to deal with the ongoing protests through dialogue and within the framework provided by international human rights standards,” Adel Rahman Khan, Secretary-General of the International Federation for Human Rights, said in a statement.