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Thailand's Anti-Government Protesters Invoke Monarchy

  • Daniel Schearf

FILE - An elderly man listens to King Bhumibol Adulyadej make a speech on a giant screen, on the king's 86th birthday at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Dec. 5, 2013.

FILE - An elderly man listens to King Bhumibol Adulyadej make a speech on a giant screen, on the king's 86th birthday at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Dec. 5, 2013.

As Thailand’s political deadlock continues, anti-government protesters are accusing Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister and backer of the ruling party, of working against the country’s revered monarch. Disloyalty to the king is a serious crime in Thailand and Thaksin's supporters say the charge is nothing more than a political smear.

Royalists in Thailand's anti-government protest movement have long accused former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of undermining the King, the country's most revered figure.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban argues Thaksin wants to use his sister, the current prime minister, to remake the country as a republic with himself as president.

Such allegations are routinely aired by protesters like Duangjai Amarttayakun.

"Yes, I agree with Khun Suthep. And so are most of the Bangkokians. The reason that more Bangkokians come out, or more people come out from all over the country, was because of this," Duangjai said. "You know, he was trying to bring down the monarch."

Defaming Thailand's King Bhumiphol Adulyadej can carry a prison sentence for up to 15 years under the punitive “Lese Majeste” laws. The revered king remains widely popular and has long been seen as above Thailand’s political disputes.

That popularity, says Noppadon Pattama one of Thaksin's lawyers and a ruling party lawmaker, is why politicians like Suthep imply defamation offenses for political purposes.

"He would like to draw the crowd to his rally because Thai people love the King.," Noppadon said. "Anyone who is against the King would be discredit(ed) or would be demonized as an enemy of Thailand. Which, Dr. Thaksin, he loves his King."

Noppadon spoke to VOA in the "Thaksin Shinawatra Library" at the ruling Pheu Thai party headquarters. Three empty bookshelves that were once full of writings by Thaksin stand empty after they were ransacked by protesters.

At the entrance, across from the library, is a large photograph of Thaksin kneeling at the King's feet in reverence.

While the King has not intervened in the country’s current deadlock, some Pheu Thai supporters have said they suspect he endorsed the military coup that unseated Thaksin in 2006. Since then, anti-Thaksin rallies have been defined by protesters’ yellow shirts and other royal imagery.

But in the current standoff, protesters are wearing less yellow and seem to be avoiding large displays of the monarchy, notes academic and independent legal expert Verapat Pariyawong.

“I think, and I would predict, that the monarchy itself sent some form of signals to these protest leaders that I don't want to be used as your symbols anymore," Verapat said. " If you want to fight you can fight but don't use the picture of the King. But, I can't say that as I don't have the fact to back it up. And, if I have the fact to back it up I would say it, if there's no Lèse-majesté law.”

The frail 86-year-old King has made no direct, public comments on the recent unrest except on his birthday when he urged unity among Thai people.

But analysts say Thailand remains divided and Thaksin's opponents blame him for splitting the country and interfering in politics as an un-elected leader.

The protesters want what they call the "Thaksin Regime" removed from Thai politics by forcing out the current government and Thaksin loyalists, who they say are corrupt.

The telecoms tycoon, who championed populist policies in Thailand's rural northeast, lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a prison sentence for abuse of power.
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