Thai King silent on reform call as he swears in Cabinet

Amid protests, monarch wishes ministers wisdom and hopes people will be happy

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha pointing out something to Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan (seated) during a group photo session after the Cabinet was sworn in yesterday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha pointing out something to Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan (seated) during a group photo session after the Cabinet was sworn in yesterday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK • Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn has sworn in a new Cabinet, and called for "order and peace" but without mentioning recent anti-government student protests that have urged reforms of the powerful monarchy.

The swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday marked the monarch's first public appearance since the nearly unprecedented calls in two student-led protests for curbing the new powers that King Vajiralongkorn has amassed since taking the throne after the death of his father in 2016.

The King, as head of state, gave his blessing to the new Cabinet members, wishing them "good health and wisdom to have the strength to perform your duties according to your oaths".

He also expressed a desire "for the happiness of the people, happiness of the public and for order and peace".

He did not publicly acknowledge the student protests, some of which defied lese majeste laws against insulting the monarchy that carry a maximum 15-year prison sentence.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had said on Tuesday that thousands of student protesters "went too far" after some issued a 10-point call for reform of the monarchy, which is considered semi-divine in the country's conservative culture.

Yesterday, Mr Prayut said he plans to order an investigation to identify the people behind the protests, even as he promised to resolve the tension peacefully.

Speaking at a media briefing after a Cabinet meeting, Mr Prayut pleaded with protesters not to use demonstrations as a platform to stir unrest and said the government "is being very careful" not to inflame the situation.

"The majority of people don't agree with this," he said. "We have to look into the demonstrations and who's behind it because there's a lot of money involved. We have to investigate."

So far, no protest leaders have been charged under the lese majeste laws but two key leaders were arrested on charges including sedition and violating coronavirus regulations on large gatherings before being released on bail.

Meanwhile, Digital Economy Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta ordered the authorities to identify "inappropriate" posts and singled out 114 posts mostly made on Facebook, but also Twitter and YouTube, that may be in breach of the Computer Crimes Act.

"All evidence will be gathered and submitted to court tomorrow," he wrote on Facebook late on Tuesday. "Once the court has issued an order, it will be forwarded to the three platforms. If within 15 days, the accounts are not closed or posts deleted, we'll immediately take legal action."

According to the law, fines for violations are a maximum of 200,000 baht (S$8,840) and a daily fine of no more than 5,000 baht per post, he wrote.

Thousands of demonstrators had gathered on Monday as part of near-daily rallies which have gained momentum after the arrests of top leaders.

They reiterated a rare public call last week by one of those arrested, Mr Arnon Nampa, for rolling back measures that increased the power of King Vajiralongkorn.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2020, with the headline 'Thai King silent on reform call as he swears in Cabinet'. Subscribe