Barely a week has passed since the Constitutional Court’s January-31 ruling that the Move Forward Party’s pledge to amend the controversial royal defamation law was unconstitutional when the issue of monarchy reform is back on the media front pages.
This time the debate was led by monarchy-reformist Tawan Tuatulanond of the Thalu Wang Group (Going Beyond the Palace Group). Tawan posted a video clip a few days after the ruling, showing her raging at a police officer while being inside her motionless car waiting for the royal motorcade of HRH Princess Sirindhorn to pass first.
In the video, Tawan was visibly in rage, and kept asking the police officer why she and other motorists had to stop when other people had urgent things to do as well. The video clip enraged ultra-royalists. Fast forward to yesterday’s afternoon, while Tawan and a few other activists gathered at BTS Siam Station, they were confronted by an ultra-royalist group and a brawl followed as the ultra-royalists shouted at the reformists.
While honking at a royal motorcade is not my cup of tea, the environment is such that the debate about monarchy reform through formal channels, particularly the parliament, has been shut. This leaves young activists like Tawan more enraged and desperate, and we are now dealing with the consequence of that. Shock tactics are now probably the only means to reopen the debate about the issue. Without that video clip of Tawan in rage, Thai society would probably not be debating about the issue today.
This is how unfortunate and desperate the situation has become. It is not just the anachronistic lese majete law that some Thais, particularly young Thais, want to debate in hope of amending it to be more in line with truly democratic countries, but issues like the royal motorcade as well.
Other questions include: should the blocking of traffic be done for senior royal members only when on duty, how long should it be done in advance, and how many lanes should it be shut? Another is whether the practice of crawling on the floor in the presence of senior royals should end, when in fact it was originally abolished by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) over a century ago, only to be reintroduced during the previous reign of King Rama IX?
Yet another topic close to the hearts of some young Thais is the practice of having senior royals handing diplomas to new graduates of many universities.
As it is, even the opposition Move Forward Party is now distancing themselves from Tawan and her fellow activists with both former leader Pita Limjaroenrat and the party deputy spokesman saying yesterday they do not condone the act of honking at Princess Sirindhorn motorcade by Tawan.
Meanwhile, after the brawl, Tawan is now facing online threats. One social media user wrote that Tawan should be thrown off a skywalk and things will be over. The truth is, things will unlikely be over even if Tawan is gone or silenced as many young Thais have become fixated by the issue of monarchy reform.
Perhaps it is more like the beginning of a new chapter of conflicts where the parliament is no longer a viable venue for such debate and discussion and the specter of more violent clashes on the streets is real.