The massive portrait of His Majesty King Rama 10 stood in front of Siam Commercial Bank’s headquarters. To the portrait’s right, a human rights lawyer and Ratsadon’s leading activist Anon Nampa stood on a truck in a yellow duck costume. Thousands of people gathered, spilling out onto the other side of the street.
Cries of “ooh” and “ahh” went up now and then. Not because Anon was cursing hell, fire, and brimstone from the truck. Instead, he was educating minds, provoking thoughts, and inspiring changes.
That’s why he’s Thailand’s most dangerous man. It’s no wonder General Prayut Chan-o-cha is bringing back Article 112, the lese majeste law.
Last night, 25 November, Anon explained to the crowd the technical differences between personal wealth and crown wealth. Not in lawyer’s talk, but in layman’s terms, with touches of sarcasm here and there for entertainment effect. Usually, one wouldn’t take the words of a man in a yellow duck costume seriously, but the crowd paid full attention.
Personal wealth, that which belongs to the king, to do with as His Majesty sees fit. Crown wealth, that which belongs to the monarchy, to be inherited by subsequent monarchs.
Previously, the Finance Ministry managed crown wealth. The ministry is headed by a government minister, appointed to the position by the prime minister, who’s elected by the parliament, which is elected by the people. Hence, crown wealth belongs to the nation. At least that’s the democratic theory.
Hence, the theme of last night’s protest: “Ratsadon requests the king’s return of national wealth.”
Anon spoke of how the junta-inspired 2017 constitution blurred the line between personal wealth and crown wealth. He pointed out how the 23.38 percent ownership in SCB, one of Thailand’s largest banks, has been transferred from the crown to the king due to the new laws. He told of how the same happened to the Crown Property Bureau. He cited issues with inheritances and stressed that he believes the king, in his wisdom, would make the right decisions.
However, Anon proposed constitutional amendments because believing in His Majesty’s wisdom is one thing. Writing the laws that guarantee transparency between personal wealth and crown wealth is another.
But of course, Anon’s argument is based on Khana Ratsadon. Following the 1932 Revolution, Khana Ratsadon wrote a constitution separating the king’s wealth from the crown, as is normal practice in constitutional monarchies.
But there are counter-arguments. Royalists believe in a system that precedes constitutional monarchy. They believe Khana Ratasadon wrote a constitution that stole the wealth belonging to the king. His Majesty has simply taken back what is rightfully the wealth of Thai kings, as dictated by traditions in centuries past.
Also, Royalists argue that personalizing crown wealth is to clean up corruption. Furthermore, the king plans to turn properties such as the former Dusit Zoo and Nang Lerng Horse Racing track into a hospital and a public park. Therefore, Royalists see the 2017 constitution as a good thing, correcting past wrongs.
Hence, Thailand’s political conflict in a nutshell. The two sides speak two different languages – one speaks democracy and the other speaks monarchy.
Anyone can stand on the stage and yell out slogans and soundbites. But last night, Anon fulfilled all the criteria of “good content.” He educated, entertained, and inspired, all the while wearing a yellow duck costume.
The Prayut Regime may have tanks and the full weight of the law. Article 112 may return. But Anon has something far more dangerous to the regime. He has ideas, and these ideas are threatening to change Thailand.
Hence, to the regime, he’s the kingdom’s most dangerous man.