Pro-democracy plaque installed by Thai protesters at Bangkok’s Sanam Luang removed
A plaque set in concrete on the weekend during a rally of an estimated 20,000 pro-Democracy protesters near Bangkok’s Grand Palace lasted less than a 24 hours before being removed.
- The protests were the largest in a string of rallies that have been growing since July
- Protesters want the Prime Minister to resign and the monarchy to be reformed
- The plaque replaced one that was removed in 2017
The plaque, which declared Thailand belonging to the people, was placed at the Sanam Luang public square on Sunday after the demonstration calling for reforms to the monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
“I’ve received a report that the plaque is gone but I don’t know how and I don’t know who did it,” Bangkok Police Deputy Chief Piya Tawichai told Reuters on Monday.
“Police are checking with the BMA [Bangkok Metropolitan Administration] and checking who took it out, as the plaque is part of the evidence to charge the protest group [for this wrongdoing],” Deputy Chief Piya said.
After the protest, people queued to take pictures next to the plaque, which also featured a hand giving the three-finger salute adopted by pro-democracy protesters.
The weekend’s rally was the largest in two months of demonstrations against Thailand’s palace and military-dominated establishment.
This is despite a longstanding taboo on criticising the monarchy, which is illegal in Thailand.
Their core demands are the dissolution of parliament with fresh elections, a new constitution, royal reform and and an end to intimidation of political activists.
They believe Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army commander led a 2014 coup toppling an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because the laws had been changed to favour a pro-military party.
Protesters say a constitution promulgated under military rule is undemocratic.
‘This country belongs to the people’
The plaque replaced one that was mysteriously removed three years ago and swapped with one praising the monarchy.
A group of activists drilled a hole in front of a makeshift stage and, after Buddhist rituals, laid down a round brass plaque in cement to commemorate the 1932 revolution that changed Thailand from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.
“At the dawn of September 20, here is where the people proclaim that this country belongs to the people,” the plaque states.
The protesters later attempted to march toward the Grand Palace to hand over a petition, seeking royal reforms that would reduce the King’s constitutional powers to the head of the Privy Council, but were blocked by police barricades.
The petition was eventually received by a police official who promised to forward it to the council.
Student leader Parit “Penguin” Chirawak called for a general strike on October 14, the anniversary of a popular student uprising in 1973, which ended a military dictatorship after dozens were killed by police.
He also urged people to withdraw funds and close their accounts at Siam Commercial Bank, in which the King is the biggest shareholder.
Mr Parit also called for another protest on Thursday outside parliament.
King’s passing leaves political void
As a child, Bhumibol Adulyadej hardly expected to become king. But his brother’s death thrust the young Prince to the throne.
A victory despite lower than expected turnout
Organisers had predicted as many as 50,000 people would take part in the protest, but Associated Press estimated around 20,000 were present by Saturday evening.
Tyrell Haberkorn, a Thai studies scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that by holding their protest at Sanam Luang, a longtime “site of recreation and protest for the people, taken over in recent years by the monarchy,” the protesters “have won a significant victory”.
“Their resounding message is that Sanam Luang, and the country, belong to the people,” he said in an email.
The crowd included an LGBTQ contingent waving rainbow banners while red flags sprouted across the area, representing Thailand’s Red Shirt political movement, which battled the country’s military in Bangkok’s streets 10 years ago.
There were skits and music, and speakers gave fiery speeches late Saturday accusing the government of incompetence, corruption in the military and failure to protect women’s rights. Up to 10,000 police officers were reportedly deployed for the event.
Establishment ‘confounded’ by protests
Kevin Hewison, a University of North Carolina professor emeritus and a veteran Thai studies scholar, said the students were too young to have been caught up in the sometimes violent partisan battles that roiled Thailand a decade ago.
The appearance of the Red Shirts, while boosting the protest numbers, links the new movement to mostly poor rural Thais, supporters of former populist billionaire Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.
Mr Thaksin was opposed by the country’s traditional royalist establishment.
The sometimes violent struggle between Mr Thaksin’s supporters and the conservative foes left Thai society polarised.
Mr Thaksin, who now lives in exile, noted on Twitter on Saturday that it was the anniversary of his fall from power and posed the rhetorical question of how the nation had fared since then.
Protester Amorn Panurang said Thailand’s education and healthcare systems would be better if the country had a good, democratic government.
“This is our dream. And we hope that our dream will come true.”
Arrests for earlier actions on charges including sedition have failed to faze the young activists.
They had been denied permission to enter the Thammasat University campus and Sanam Luang on Saturday, but when they pushed, the authorities retreated, even though police warned they were breaking the law.