Germany gets drawn into Thailand's political turmoil

Pro-democracy protesters and royalists rally outside German Embassy in Bangkok

Supporters from both sides rallied at the German Embassy in Bangkok.
Supporters from both sides rallied at the German Embassy in Bangkok.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Police standing guard as royalists participated in a rally outside the German Embassy in Bangkok yesterday to show support for the Thai monarchy.
Police standing guard as royalists participated in a rally outside the German Embassy in Bangkok yesterday to show support for the Thai monarchy.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (right) and Deputy Prime Ministers Prawit Wongsuwan (centre) and Wissanu Krea-ngam attending a special session in the Thai Parliament yesterday to find a way out of the crisis.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (right) and Deputy Prime Ministers Prawit Wongsuwan (centre) and Wissanu Krea-ngam attending a special session in the Thai Parliament yesterday to find a way out of the crisis. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Germany found itself embroiled in Thailand's political turmoil yesterday as both royalists and pro-democracy protesters made contrasting appeals to the European country, where King Maha Vajiralongkorn spends much of his time.

Supporters from both sides rallied at the German Embassy in Bangkok as Thailand opened a special parliamentary sitting yesterday to find a way out of the current crisis, in which months of street protests by young demonstrators demanding political change and monarchy reform have triggered an increasingly threatening pushback from royalists.

Royalist Nitithorn Lamlua led dozens of supporters early yesterday afternoon to hand a letter to Germany's Ambassador to Thailand Georg Schmidt.

"I am concerned some groups are trying to pull Germany into Thailand's affairs," Mr Nitithorn told The Straits Times. "I want them to listen to the voices of Thai people from all sides to get information that is correct and complete."

In the evening, young pro-democracy protesters marched to the German Embassy to submit another appeal, asking Berlin to clarify if King Vajiralongkorn had paid inheritance tax to Germany since he ascended the throne, and whether he had conducted Thai politics from German soil.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said yesterday that Germany is continuing to look into the behaviour of the King. "We are monitoring this long term," Mr Maas said. "It will have immediate consequences if there are things that we assess to be illegal."

King Vajiralongkorn, 68, took personal ownership of the multibillion-dollar assets of Thailand's Crown Property Bureau two years ago, and also controls two army units.

His status in Germany came under scrutiny in the Bundestag earlier this month when, in response to a query from a lawmaker, Mr Maas said guests in Germany were not allowed to conduct state business from German soil.

King Vajiralongkorn's power and spending have been a source of resentment to youth driving the months-long street protest movement, which wants the military-backed Constitution to be amended, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign and the monarchy to be reformed.

Protesters want the King's powers to be trimmed in line with his official status as a constitutional monarch, a sensitive issue in a country where insulting the King is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The protests escalated after Prime Minister Prayut declared a serious emergency in Bangkok on Oct 15 and police unleashed water cannon on the largely peaceful demonstrators.

Pro-democracy protesters gathered outside the German Embassy during a rally in Bangkok yesterday. Both royalists and pro-democracy protesters rallied at the embassy and made contrasting appeals to the European country, where Thai King Maha Vajiralong
Protesters rally outside German Embassy in Bangkok: Pro-democracy protesters gathered outside the German Embassy during a rally in Bangkok yesterday. Both royalists and pro-democracy protesters rallied at the embassy and made contrasting appeals to the European country, where Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn spends much of his time. The rallies came as Thai lawmakers began a debate in a special Parliament sitting yesterday to find a way out of the current political turmoil that has seen thousands of pro-democracy protesters hit the streets in recent months calling for changes in the Constitution and reform in the monarchy. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Last week, Mr Prayut was forced to revoke the emergency declaration to lower tensions.

Yet, several key protest leaders have been denied bail after arrest. They include Thammasat University students Parit Chiwarak and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, who have been most vocal about monarchy reform.

In their absence, more younger faces have sprung up to drive the movement, which massed thousands of supporters in downtown Bangkok's Ratchaprasong intersection on Sunday night.

Royalists have also started trying to mobilise supporters to de-monstrate loyalty to the King, who last week publicly praised a man for standing up to pro-democracy protesters.

It is unclear what the parliamentary sitting, which continues today, will achieve as few lawmakers were in the mood for compromise yesterday.

Mr Prayut said at its opening: "I am confident that today, regardless of our different political views, everyone still loves the country."

Parliamentarians allied with the coalition government dismissed calls for both his resignation and monarchy reform.

Appointed Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn said: "The Prime Minister should not resign, and I want to give him my support. Stay and fight."

He alleged that politicians were masterminding the street protests.

"The cause of these problems are not the Constitution, the Prime Minister nor the monarchy," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2020, with the headline 'Germany gets drawn into Thailand's political turmoil'. Print Edition | Subscribe