Thai Royalists Say ‘Faith’ in Monarchy Winning as Protests Quiet

As unprecedented verbal attacks rain down on the Thai monarchy, Warisanun Sribawontanakit, a supporter of that monarchy, says protecting the palace from its critics is a battle of “faith” that has set her on a crusade to patrol the internet for instances of royal defamation by pro-democracy protesters.   Thailand is a kingdom divided. A mainly young, social media-driven pro-democracy movement is mounting an unprecedented challenge to the wealth and influence of Thailand’s once-untouchable monarchy, calling for King Maha Vajiralonkorn’s power to be constrained clearly within the constitution.That call has shocked and outraged royalists, who are older, conservative and now determined to use a lull in the rowdy street rallies to use the draconian lèse-majesté law — which carries penalties of up to 15 years in jail per charge — to arrest those leading the criticism of the monarchy.So far 40 protesters, the youngest aged 16, have been charged under the law, many following complaints generated from protests, comments and videos on Thai social media.  Pro-democracy movement protest leaders from left, Parit Chiwarak, Panupong Jadnok, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and Shinawat Chankrajang address supporters after answering charges at a police station in Northaburi, Thailand, Dec. 8, 2020.Royalists say the king has reconnected with his kingdom and that has led the protesters into a dead end of ugly social media criticism by a small minority of misguided youth.“Eighty to 90% of Thais are still loyal to the monarchy, they may have gone through a small hiccup. Now they’re back stronger,” Somchai Sawangkarn, one of Thailand’s 250 army-appointed senators told VOA.  “People need to give him [the king] a break, his father reigned for over 70 years, so they should give him time to prove himself which I think he is doing right now and doing really well too,” Somchai said.Like many in the establishment, he believes the protesters have overplayed their hand and should have focused on the perceived shortcomings of the government of Prayuth, a former army chief who took power in a 2014 coup, and amending the constitution, two of their three core demands.  “As for the reform of the monarchy, they can fight to the death and will still never win,” he added.Analysts say the protest movement may now be running out of road as the royalist reflexes stir across the country.“Thais may have thought about the unthinkable [criticism of the monarchy] before, but never dared to speak out,” Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, told VOA. “But the protesters have reached the limit, they have exposed everything there is to know about the monarchy, but that hasn’t shaken the power of faith among the royalists,” he said.Thai royalists say Thailand’s limited democracy – army-influenced, with a king involved in political patronage from backstage – works for the kingdom’s unique conditions.The protest movement says the system favors only the palace, billionaires, courtiers and the legion of generals who steward one of Asia’s most unequal societies. They describe royalists as “dinosaurs” holding back the country from reforms that will help the majority with better education and better work and break a culture which values hierarchy over critical thinking. Warisanun, preparing to take a new set of complaints to the police, called the “dinosaur” tag meaningless.“Why would I care? If I did, then I’ll be no different from these kids who are clueless and immature,” she said, adding that the country is in “a war of faith and belief.” “The monarchy is the core pillar of our country. We’ve survived every crisis because of the monarchy,“ she said.

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