Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha on Tuesday urged anti-government activists not to “incite turmoil,” a day after protesters called for curtailing the power of Thailand’s monarchy and loosening strict laws against criticizing the royal family.
The protest Monday was the latest in a series of rallies around the country since mid-July at which participants have become bolder in speaking about the monarchy, while also calling for the ouster of the current government.
“I beg (protesters) not to incite turmoil and make things worse during this time because we are attempting to solve many problems,” Prayuth told reporters at Government House in Bangkok following a routine cabinet meeting.
Under Thailand’s Lese-Majeste law, one count of defaming, insulting or threatening the Thai royal family carries a penalty of three to 15 years in prison. Nearly 100 people have been charged under the law since a 2014 coup led by Prayuth, according to iLaw, an online legal advocacy group. He has since been elected Thailand’s leader.
The Lese-Majeste law has been used less frequently of late, at the request of the King himself, according to Prayuth.
‘More power than the system allows’
Speaking to about 200 people at the protest on Monday, including many who wore Harry Potter costumes, human rights lawyer Anon Numpa called for curtailing the power of the monarchy and expanding free speech.
“We have democracy with the king as the head of state, but the monarchy has much more power than the system allows,” Anon told protesters. “We need to seriously deal with this matter and allow everyone to speak out publicly and with due respect to the institution, otherwise we can’t solve problems.
“This doesn’t mean we want to abolish the monarchy – we want to improve how the monarchy legitimately co-exists in the system,” he said.
Royal Palace officials declined comment on Tuesday, Reuters news service reported.
On July 18, a student group rallied in Bangkok before a crowd of more than 2,000. They called for the government to dissolve parliament, to stop harassing dissidents and to amend the 2017 Constitution, which they said was tailored to enable Prayuth to maintain power. That first protest was followed by a series of smaller ones across the nation.
On Tuesday, Prayuth said he would tell officials to discuss constitutional amendments, without saying specifically what changes could be considered and presented to the parliament.
He also commented on the protesters.
“I’m concerned about the lads and I have a guideline that we will listen more to the people,” he told reporters. “We know the new generation wants a future.”
“Within this month we will open forums and they can rally, because the law gives them that right.”
‘The King has mercy’
In June, Prayuth warned activists not to criticize the monarchy, while dismissing reports linking a Thai activist’s disappearance in Cambodia to alleged violations of Lese-Majeste.
Since Wanchalearm Satsaksit went missing in early June, the Thai and Cambodian governments have denied having any role in the incident, even as some social media posts had linked the Thai palace to his disappearance.
“The worrying thing is the undermining, criticizing of the monarchy. I beg all of you not to believe in distorted information or disseminate information to create hatred,” Prayuth told reporters at the time. “I need to say this today because I want Thailand to stay peaceful.”
“What I want all Thais to know is that, lately Article 112 has not been used. Do you know why? Because the King has mercy and advised us not to exercise the law,” Prayuth said, referring to the section of the criminal code that covers Lese-Majeste. He added that he had received the advice in person a couple of years ago.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, now 68, succeeded his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in the wake of his death in October 2016. Bhumibol had reigned for 70 years.