BANGKOK — Around a hundred people rallied close to the Democracy Monument on Thursday to show their support for the monarchy and denounced any attempt by anti-government protesters to slander the institution.
Coming on the heels of the wave of anti-government rallies over the past two weeks, former polytechnic students and people in their 40s to 60s converged on a sidewalk near the iconic monument to express their concerns about the anti-monarchy sentiment that shadowed the student-led protests.
The rally, billed as a “show of solidarity,” was organized by a group calling themselves “Polytechnic Students for the Nation.” It was the first counter-protest ever since rallies against PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s leadership sprang up across the country two weeks ago.
“We, the Polytechnic for the Nation, are loyal to the nation, religion, and the monarchy, which are the important backbone of the constitutional monarchy regime,” Tossapol Manunrat, the group’s leader, said. “We’re not against the protests, but they must not do anything that crosses the line, which can lead to violence.”
“We will take action by giving the right information about the monarchy and expose the real agenda of those who use the youths for their anti-monarchy ends,” he continued.
Many conservatives and government officials, including PM Prayut himself and army chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, have issued a stern warning to university students against their veiled references to the monarchy at anti-government protests.
Criticism of the Royal Family is both a taboo and a criminal offense under the royal defamation law, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail.
Prior to the gathering, PM Prayut said Wednesday that he is concerned that a counter-protest would result in a violent clash between pro- and anti-government protesters.
But Tossapol, the group’s leader, said the group might resort to force if the situation forced them to.
“It depends on the situation,” Tossapol said when asked whether the group is committed to avoiding violence. “Our activity will certainly be more intense in the future.”
The yellow-clad demonstrators chanted “Long Live the King,” and held portraits of His Majesty the King and the late King Rama IX. The gathering lasted for about half an hour and ended with the singing of the Royal Anthem.
Among them was Chaiyakorn Hommontra, 67, a former member of the Red Gaur, a paramilitary organization set up in the 1970s to combat the left-leaning student movement at the time.
Chaiyakorn said his respect toward the monarchy has never changed ever since he joined the right-wing group. The Red Gaur was part of the assailants who besieged and stormed Thammasat University on Oct. 6, 1976, killing scores of students.
“We, the Red Gaurs, are always loyal to the monarchy,” Chaiyakorn said. “We always pay homage and remember the good deeds of Their Majesties, from King Rama I to the current reign. Our love is deeply rooted in our hearts until the day I die.”
Chaiyakorn, who is a retired civil servant, said the purpose of today’s rally is not related to the government or what the university students are demanding, but to defend the monarchy.
“I don’t know about the other things. I don’t have anything in mind, but I will not let anyone harm the monarchy,” he said. “I’m 67 now and my loyalty to the monarchy has never declined.”