Thousands of anti-government demonstrators gathered in the Thai capital on Sunday with an intention to submit letters to King Maha Vajiralongkorn as they petition for changes to the monarchy.
This is the first time protesters plan to directly communicate with the king by writing to him, though it is unclear how they will hand over the letters and who will be on hand to receive them. Demonstrators have been rallying for almost four months, with key demands including more accountability and transparency from the monarchy.
The protesters are breaking deeply entrenched taboos in Thailand, where insulting or criticizing top royals can lead to long jail sentences. Last month, theysubmitted a letter to the German embassy in Bangkok asking the government in Berlin to investigate the king, who spends much of his time in the European country, over tax and visa violations there.
“Sunday’s protest is another key moment in which the protesters are changing the relationship between the people and the king,” said Tyrell Haberkorn, professor of Southeast Asian studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “With each protest, and each new action, the people are asserting themselves as equal members of the polity.”
The king said recently that Thailand is a “land of compromise.” Royal supporters also gathered in Bangkok on Sunday to show their backing.
The protest movement has also called for the government’s resignation and a rewriting of the constitution.Demands for monarchy reform include that the king no longer endorse coups and getting rid of laws that stifle discussion of the royal family.
“It will be a milestone in our history that we send our requests directly to our king to bring the monarchy back under the constitution, not away from democracy,” protest organizers said in a statement ahead of the Sunday rally. “This is not a subversion, rather this will dignify the monarchy.”
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha has urged protesters to trust the parliamentary process to address their grievances. Activists also want a rewriting of the constitution, which was drafted after Prayuth took power in a 2014 coup, and was instrumental in helping the establishment retain power after elections last year.
The Thai parliament plans to set up areconciliation committee to ease tensions, but protestersrejected the plan and called for the immediate resignation of Prayuth, who has said he wouldn’t quit.
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