On 5 September 2020, hundreds of high school students from over 50 institutions gathered at the Education Ministry. Their demands are as they have always been since they first protested at the ministry last month:
- Stop harassing/persecuting the students.
- Get rid of outdated-school regulations.
- Education reform.
However, Prachatai English posted on its Twitter account a photo of a high school student holding a sign that says:
“Reform the monarchy Institution. Reform history textbooks.”
Hence, the topic that historically, the Thai people have been afraid to touch. The mainstream media does not go near the issue.
But the truth cannot be denied. At these protests, there are people, young and old, holding signs that say “reform the monarchy institution.”
At the Thammasat University protest, student leaders called for the reform. Human right lawyer Anon Nampa is perhaps the most famous of those who brought the topic out into public consciousness in his many speeches. Anon, of course, now sits in jail, with the court denying his bail.
Anon faces many charges, most significant of which is Article 116, sedition. But he doesn’t face Article 112, or the lese majeste law.
Much like the sign in the young student’s hands, calling for “the reform of the monarchy institution” is neither defaming nor insulting. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t stop the authorities from filing the lese majeste law against anyone who dares to mention the word monarchy in less than glowing light.
But they are not charging anyone with Article 112 (yet).
How do you charge 15 or 16-year-old high school students with the kingdom’s most feared law? How do you sweep up hundreds of protestors, young and old, students and retirees, and throw them into jail?
In the past, the authorities used the lese majeste law in isolated cases and against isolated individuals. For example, Ampon Tangnoppakul, otherwise known as “Ah Gong,” who passed away in prison in 2012 at 61 years old.
Another familiar case is of Jatupatr Boonyapatraraksa, otherwise known as Pai Daodin. He spent two years in prison for sharing on his social media a controversial article by the BBC about King Rama 10. Pai Daodin was among a group of 100 prisoners who received a royal pardon last year.
But those and hundreds of others were “isolated” cases. The authorities could sweep them up, and the backlash was no more than strong-worded newspaper editorials and condemnation from human rights groups.
But time has changed, and it has changed quickly.
While still avoided by the mainstream media, the topic is out in the open, especially on social media.
People, specifically the younger generation, no longer fear to speak of “the reform of the monarchy institution” so that Thailand can become “a constitutional monarchy with the king as the head of state.”
(Let’s be clear, this is on the opposite end of “overthrowing the monarchy.”)
The call for reform comes as a shock to the traditional establishment, as it is to the older generation. It was only a year ago that no one dared to talk about it in the open. But today, from high school students to retirees, everyone is discussing it.
Charging them with Article 112 would only further give the protestors a cause to increase their call for reform. It would galvanize their movement even more.
What would the traditional establishment do?
Right now, the situation for the traditional establishment is, “Wait and see. How long can they keep this up? Hopefully, they will melt away. Just keep hitting them with other laws.”
But this is likely just wishful thinking. The can of worm is opened. Everybody can see the elephant in the room, and half the room is talking about it.
This is the underlying tension between the traditional establishment and the protestors, which could turn ugly at any given time.
The best course of action, the only course of action for the sake of the Thai nation, is to sit down with the protestors, within the framework of democracy, and discuss the issue through reasons and understanding.
The question is, is that also wishful thinking?