Thailand’s democracy protesters will ratchet up their demonstrations this month until “the government accept our demands”, a leader of the movement has warned.
Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer, also said that the protesters would not back down on addressing the divisive and until recently forbidden topic of the Thai monarchy. Activists want to curtail the power and wealth of the institution, despite calls for moderation by the government and even by some within the movement.
“It’s going to be full on about the monarchy, and we will escalate the protests to the point that we make the government accept our demands,” Mr Nampa told the Financial Times in an interview, in which he also criticised King Maha Vajiralongkorn for living abroad.
“The way he lives outside the country doesn’t sit well with the current system, a constitutional monarchy where the king still has duties to perform such as endorse the law, or needs to be in the country in case of an emergency such as war,” he said.
The Thai king lives in Germany and has only flown back to Thailand for brief visits in recent months. However, he is expected to return in time for a holiday on October 13 that marks the anniversary of the death of his father King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
He will stay until at least the end of October, when he and Queen Suthida are due to attend a commencement ceremony at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, which was the site of a large anti-government rally on September 19.
Mr Nampa, 36, said that the demonstrations would probably begin “around [October] 14”, when student protesters have called for a general strike.
He said that activists would be sleeping outside overnight, as they did after a protest attended by tens of thousands outside Bangkok’s Grand Palace on September 19. Then, student leaders embedded a plaque into Bangkok’s Royal Ground that stated that Thailand belonged to “the people, not the monarch”.
Mr Nampa was the first of Thailand’s demonstrators to criticise the king openly in a small protest on August 3. He likened the king to the Harry Potter villain Lord Voldemort, whose name other characters in the fiction series fearfully avoid uttering.
The Thai monarchy is protected from criticism by custom and strict laws, but Mr Nampa and other members of a group associated with Thammasat University shattered that taboo last month when they read out a 10-point list of demands to rein in the institution’s dominance.
The students’ outspoken criticism of the institution has emboldened opposition politicians affiliated with the Move Forward Party to probe spending by the king, including the cost of 38 royal aircraft. Mr Nampa said it would be “cheaper” if the king were to live in Thailand.
Prayuth Chan-ocha’s monarchist government said it would engage protesters on issues such as educational reform but warned them not to broach the monarchy issue. Mr Nampa has been charged, by his own count, with more than 20 crimes, including sedition.
The activist said October’s protests would include both the Thammasat group and the Free People (formerly Free Youth). Free People is a less radical group of student protesters who have called for the resignation of the government and a new constitution that would pave the way for a fully democratic election.
Mr Nampa denied that the calls for reform of the monarchy were alienating more moderate protesters. “The more you touch the heart of the problem, the more people just come.”
Additional reporting by Ryn Jirenuwat in Bangkok