Thai protesters plan to pressure Germany on King's legal status

The latest call from protesters came as lawmakers began a debate on the pro-democracy demonstrations.
The latest call from protesters came as lawmakers began a debate on the pro-democracy demonstrations.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Thai protesters plan to march to the German Embassy on Monday (Oct 26) to submit a letter questioning King Maha Vajiralongkorn's legal status in the European country, stepping up pressure as they push for changes to the monarchy.

The letter, to be delivered to embassy officials in Bangkok, will request Germany to scrutinise whether the King has exercised royal authority during his time there in violation of the country's law, the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, one of the protest organisers, said in a statement on Sunday night.

The King, who is currently in Bangkok, spends much of his time in Germany.

Officials at the German embassy in Bangkok were not immediately available for comment. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said this month that Thailand's King should not be conducting state business from the European country.

The latest call from protesters came as lawmakers began a debate on the pro-democracy demonstrations that pose a challenge to the royalist elite that has run Thailand for much of its history.

They want Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign, changes to a Constitution written after a 2014 coup and greater accountability and transparency for the monarchy - the most powerful institution in the country.

Parliament debate

Mr Prayut, who has ignored calls to quit, said on Monday he was open to any practical suggestions from the lawmakers to resolve the protesters' demands, as he remains committed to preserving the rights of all Thai citizens. The government wants to prevent any clashes or riots by enforcing the law, he said.

Mr Sompong Amornwiwat, a leader of the opposition Pheu Thai Party, said Mr Prayut must resign to de-escalate the situation and urged the government to consider protesters' demand for amending the Constitution without any delay.

He also called for the immediate release of arrested pro-democracy activists and an end to harassment of those opposed to the government.

The protesters said the Parliament sitting was being used to insult and slander the anti-government movement.

"If politics is good, there would be no protests today," the Thammasat group said on Facebook, asking supporters to join the march to the German embassy later on Monday.

Mr Prayut has said the government is open to amending some unspecified parts of the Constitution though Parliament last month stalled the charter amendment process.

Protesters say the Constitution, which allows a military-appointed Senate to vote for the prime minister, was instrumental in helping Mr Prayut maintain power.

The Prime Minister has struggled to quell the protest movement, forcing him to withdraw a state of emergency in the capital within a week of its imposition and asking protesters to "take a step back" to de-escalate the situation. But protesters rejected the olive branch and called for more protests.

Prayut's performance

An opinion poll by Suan Dusit University showed that more than 62 per cent of respondents felt discontent with Mr Prayut's performance was the key reason for the escalating protest movement.

Another survey by the National Institute of Development Administration showed 59 per cent of the 1,336 respondents are worried the protests will lead to violence and conflict.

The Thai government may be drawn into a "prolonged stand-off with the protesters, coupled with the arrests and harassment of leaders, in hopes of the movement's losing momentum", said Prof Christopher Ankersen, associate professor at New York University's School of Professional Studies Centre for Global Affairs.

If the government is forced to make some compromise, a drafting of a new Constitution - "a slow, long and arcane process" - could be used to buy time, Prof Ankersen said, adding that Mr Prayut's resignation could also be on the table.