Don't create chaos, Thai PM urges student protesters

A protester flashing a three-fingered salute, portrayed in the Hunger Games books and films as a symbol of resistance, at a Harry Potter-themed rally in Bangkok on Monday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A protester flashing a three-fingered salute, portrayed in the Hunger Games books and films as a symbol of resistance, at a Harry Potter-themed rally in Bangkok on Monday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Protesters demanding the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Harry Potter-themed rally in Bangkok, where images of Voldemort, the main antagonist in the book and film series, were displayed. PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters demanding the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Harry Potter-themed rally in Bangkok, where images of Voldemort, the main antagonist in the book and film series, were displayed. PHOTO: REUTERS

He says actions worry him, after some call for reform of monarchy

BANGKOK • Thailand's Prime Minister yesterday asked increasingly bold student-led protesters "not to create chaos", after some broke longstanding taboos by openly calling for reform of the constitutional monarchy.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief who staged a coup six years ago and has led military-backed governments ever since, also promised that Parliament would consider protesters' demands to amend the Constitution.

"I beg people not to create chaos at this time. We are solving these problems together," Mr Prayut told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.

He said he was "worried" about the young protesters who have been gathering in small groups in different parts of the country, calling for the dissolution of Parliament and new elections.

Mr Prayut said a committee has been formed in Parliament to discuss possible changes to a 2017 Constitution drafted under military auspices and that a mechanism to gauge the views of young people would be set up this month.

Opposition activists say that under the Constitution, Mr Prayut was virtually assured of staying on as prime minister after a disputed 2019 general election by the creation of a junta-appointed Senate.

"I support changes that are needed and I am not in conflict," he said.

He did not say what changes would be considered in Parliament, where his ruling coalition holds a comfortable majority, after a main opposition party was dissolved in February.

A court ban of the opposition Future Forward Party sparked campus demonstrations and student protesters took to the streets last month, with some 2,500 rallying at Bangkok's Democracy Monument.

Since then, protests have spread.

Mr Prayut has previously warned protesters not to insult the monarchy, as the act is illegal in Thailand, though he said King Maha Vajiralongkorn had asked that people no longer be prosecuted under that law.

 
 
 

On Monday night, student protesters issued a statement calling for changes in laws "that expand the power of the monarch and that could impinge on democracy where the King is the head of state".

Officials at the Royal Palace yesterday said they had no comment when asked about the protest demands.

The Constitution says the King is to be "revered" and insulting the monarchy is a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison under "lese majeste" laws.

After the King took the throne in 2016, the palace required revisions to the new Constitution that gave him greater emergency powers. He has since taken personal control over some army units and palace assets worth tens of billions of dollars.

Asked about the protesters openly discussing the King, Mr Prayut said it was a matter of law enforcement.

"I won't stop it from happening. This issue is for the authorities to follow the law," he said. "Protests are a right under the law, but they have to respect the law and rules. I am not threatening, but I am worried."

The police did not stop the six speakers at the protest, but said that any suspected offences would be investigated.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2020, with the headline 'Don't create chaos, Thai PM urges student protesters'. Print Edition | Subscribe