A Plaque Symbolizing Thailand’s Growing Democracy Protest Movement Disappears
A plaque installed by anti-government protestors in Thailand declaring the country ‘belongs to the people, and not the king’ has been removed just a day after it was laid.
The appearance of the plaque comes amidst an unprecedented wave of protests unlike any experienced in the last decades in the Southeast Asian country.
Missing plaque a powerful symbol of a growing movement
Police officials have confirmed to news outlets that they are investigating the disappearance of the plaque, but Bangkok’s deputy police chief Piya Tawichai also cautioned that there could be charges laid against the protesters who installed the plaque in the first place.
Actions such as the installation of this plaque can be a risky move in a country where criticizing the monarchy can come with a lengthy prison sentence.
Thai activists have become increasingly vocal in challenging the country’s monarchy in a movement led by young people and students.
Last Saturday, one of the largest protests in years was held near Bangkok’s Grand Palace. The outlawed event drew thousands of people.
The next day, movement leaders installed the plaque in the city’s historic Sanam Luang field to great applause along with the proclamation: “The people have expressed the intention that this country belongs to the people, and not the king.”
Those behind the plaque stated that it was meant to replace a different plaque that once lay in the same location. One celebrating the end of absolute monarchy in Thailand in the 1930s. That plaque is reported to have gone missing in 2017.
Anti-government protests evolve into demands for royal reform
The current demonstrations against the Thai government began earlier this year in July. The primary target of the protests is General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power in 2014 and went on to win a disputed election last year.
Thai protestors are rallying for him to step down and for the country to hold free and democratic elections.
However, the focus of the movement has shifted dramatically. Within a month of the first demonstrations, organizers and activists began turning their gaze toward the Thai monarchy, demanding reforms to the institution.
A dangerous move considering the country’s draconian lese-majeste laws that protect the monarchy from criticism. Those accused and convicted of such an offense can receive up to a 15-year jail sentence.
Taboo surrounding the subject has slowly eroded, and in August, protest leaders boldly read aloud a 10-point call for reform to the monarchy.
The plaque itself was seen by many as a powerful symbol in the growing struggle for democracy in Thailand.
While many predicted its physical presence to be short-lived, it has been celebrated and memorialized on Thai social media. Digital versions in colorful renditions of pastels and rainbows have been widely shared, continuing to fuel the democracy movement.