No one wants a coup, says Thai PM as rumours and protests persist

People taking photos as Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn arrived to preside over a graduation ceremony at Thammasat University in Bangkok yesterday.
Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn arrived at Thammasat University in Bangkok on Oct 30, 2020 to preside over a graduation ceremony.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BANGKOK • Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, facing pressure amid expanding protests calling for his ouster, told reporters yesterday that "no one wants to stage a coup".

Asked about rumours and suggestions by some protesters of a possible coup to replace him, he said the question should be put to those making the comments, not to him.

"We never think about this. We need to be careful and prevent the situation from escalating," he said.

Political uncertainties have risen in Thailand since widespread anti-government protests began in the South-east Asian nation earlier this month.

Rising discontent against the Premier is seen as one of the main factors feeding the demonstrations but Mr Prayut has made it clear that he does not intend to resign.

The former army chief has run Thailand for over six years, having taken power himself in a 2014 coup and returning as Premier after elections last year under a Constitution produced by his military regime.

A revision of that Constitution and reforms to the nation's monarchy are the main demands of the protesters.

A likely coup would give the army sweeping powers to crack down on the current protests.

"I don't mean whether or not there will be a coup, but that no one wants to do it," Mr Prayut said, after a meeting at the Defence Ministry.

Earlier this month, the army also denied rumours of a likely coup.

Meanwhile, some students sympathetic to Thai protesters yesterday said they were boycotting graduation ceremonies led by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, in a show of anger at the monarchy amid growing calls to reform it.

The ceremonies, at which the monarch personally hands out degrees, are a rite of passage for graduates and their families with photographs of the moment displayed with pride in many Thai homes.

But protests since mid-July have brought about open criticism of the monarchy and calls to curb its power, defying a longstanding taboo and lese majeste laws that set a jail term of up to 15 years for criticism of the King or his family.

Mr Suppanat Kingkaew, 23, said he was boycotting the ceremonies being held yesterday and today at Thammasat University, long viewed as a hotbed of radicalism and scene of a massacre of pro-democracy protesters by royalist state forces in 1976.

"Whatever it takes so that the hall is left with the smallest number of people," Mr Suppanat told Reuters. "This is to send an indirect message that some of us are unhappy with the monarchy and we want change."

It was unclear how many Thammasat students would follow the boycott.

Among those attending are Mr Papangkorn Asavapanichakul, 24, who said: "I want the photograph. It's a once-in-a-lifetime event."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2020, with the headline 'No one wants a coup, says Thai PM as rumours and protests persist'. Print Edition | Subscribe