Thailand’s monarchy “is the key to our system” and suppressing it would mean “civil war,” said Warong Dechgitvigrom, 59, a retired gynaecologist and former lawmaker.
Despite his calm demeanour, he represents the extreme pro-monarchy position, which has been in the crosshair of protesters and students for some time.
Like Warong, the former Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army, General Apirat Kongsompong, is a partisan of King Vajiralongkorn of Thailand. In a recent statement, he described the positions of those who oppose the military-royalist oligarchy “a more difficult disease to beat than COVID-19.”
Warong, founder of the pro-monarchy group “Loyal Thai”, is among those who think that the sovereign’s person must remain untouched. The institution embodied by the latter is the guarantor of the best of all possible worlds in the former Kingdom of Siam.
“We are a country where corruption reigns,” he explained, “especially among politicians.” For this reason, “we need something, at the highest level, that can allow us to counter this tendency. That something is the monarchy.”
Dissatisfaction with the monarchy is increasingly evident among opponents and critical voices, as evinced by the success, unthinkable until a few years ago, of the hashtag #republicofthailand, which was shared 740,000 times in just half a day at the end of September.
This burst of republicanism appears to be a response to the refusal by conservative MPs and senators to vote in favour of a draft amendment to the Constitution.
Warong noted that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 40, is leading this movement. His party, which came in third in the 2019 elections, was dissolved last February by order of the Constitutional Court, triggering street protests.
The demands of opponents and students would have been unthinkable until recently, in a kingdom where the sovereign is protected by a very harsh law of lèse-majesté.
Protesters have put forward a 10-point reform plan to 68-year-old King Vajiralongkorn (also styled as Rama X) that includes a reduction in the monarch’s powers.
First of all, he must give up control of the Armed Forces and accept the transfer of crown assets (estimated to be around US$ 30 billion) to the direct control of the Ministry of Finance, as well as the abolition of the law of lèse-majesté.
In addition to functions, assets and political reforms, the very person of the monarch has been questioned. For ordinary Thais, the current king lacks the charisma and influence of his predecessor, the much-loved late King Bhumibol.
At present, the current king is holed up in his golden refuge in Germany, at a luxury resort in Bavaria, where he decided to isolate himself together with his many lovers and concubines at the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, leaving Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (a former Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army) in charge of the country.
The king’s reputation as a “playboy” has irritated the German government, increasingly impatient with this guest on its territory, who is as illustrious as he is embarrassing, attracting the interest of tabloid papers more than diplomats and world leaders.
German authorities have summoned the Thai ambassador on more than one occasion to voice their displeasure at seeing another country’s domestic affairs managed from its own territory.
Attempts by Thailand’s diplomatic representatives to reassure the host country have been of little use, despite the claim that Thai affairs are solidly in the hands of the prime minister whilst the king is staying in Germany “on private business”.
The fact is that the monarch’s behaviour has boosted the claims of those who would like, if not the end of the sovereign’s authority, at least see it clipped.
The non-violent but firm protest movement led by young people represents the vanguard of modernity, of a new world that is clashing with an “archaic” institution whose powers are now beyond any acceptable and democratic framework.
“What matters is the institution itself, not so much its character,” says Warong, who is a realist. Indeed, whilst the monarchy still remains an institution that is largely revered in Thailand, reformist ideas are starting to emerge even among the people most connected to the conservative camp.