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The people versus the King: Thailand's unprecedented revolt

October 14, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Pro-democracy protesters give the three-finger salute as they march towards Government House during an anti-government rally in Bangkok on October 14, 2020. (Photo by Jack TAYLOR / AFP) (Photo by JACK TAYLOR/AFP via Getty Images)

Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn is facing bold opposition from a new generation of young Thais who are pushing for monarchy reform

The royal mansion is where Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn was born and it's where, as Crown Prince, he accepted the formal invitation to the crown in 2016 following the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, which was four years ago on Tuesday.

In recent months, the idea of a sacrosanct monarchy and a King shielded from public scrutiny has been torn apart by a new generation of young Thais, who are openly challenging the powerful institution.

Experts say this week could be a watershed moment for the ongoing protest movement, which is calling for a new constitution, the dissolution of parliament and resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, as well as an end of intimidation of government critics.

Protest leaders expect a large turnout Wednesday but there are questions over whether they are pushing too hard for reform of the monarchy, and whether people will come out onto the streets during a sensitive time and October downpours.

"I expect that the government would control this protest very hard," said Punchada Sirivunnabood, associate professor of politics at Mahidol University's Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities.

An August 16 protest in Bangkok attracted an estimated 10,000 people and in mid-September thousands came out once again, with protesters laying a plaque near the Grand Palace that read, "Here, the people declare that this place belongs to the people, not the King. "

The root cause of political problems stemmed from this institution, we couldn't just dance around and ignore it anymore more," said Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, a 21-year-old student who has become a central figure of the new student movement.

The demands included the King being answerable to the constitution, revoking the laws against defaming the monarchy, a new constitution, abolishing royal offices, ousting the military-led government and disbanding the King's royal guards.

Protesters, who say the flailing economy offers them little job prospects, have begun to scrutinize the King's immense wealth and power.

Reform of the monarchy has become an increasingly central demand but the protests are a rallying point for greater democratic freedoms, including LGBTQ and women's rights, as well as education and economic reform.

Panusaya, who helped organize one such protest, said "we were outraged by the decision. "

But Panusaya's protests have attracted worrying attention from authorities and she knows speaking publicly about the monarchy could be dangerous.

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