BANGKOK — Both anti-government and pro-establishment protesters convened close to the Democracy Monument on Wednesday, a stark display of political divide that many feared could turn violent.
Several brief scuffles already broke out since activists opposed to PM Prayut Chan-o-cha began their protest on Ratchadamnoen Avenue at about 8am – hours earlier from the scheduled starting time of 2pm. Their plans to march on Government House are complicated by a royal motorcade set to pass through the area later today.
Reports say several people were injured in the clashes so far, including a reporter from Amarin TV who was struck in the head with a piece of rock.
Activist leader Arnon Nampha said he will flash the three finger salute and recite a poem about democracy when King Vajiralongkorn’s motorcade passes by.
“If there is a crackdown on the protesters today, I will place the blame on His Majesty the King,” he said.
Arnon’s movement is opposed by hardline monarchy supporters, clad in yellow, who are holding their ground all along Ratchadamnoen Avenue to show their loyalty to His Majesty the King.
Phalang Pracharath Party MPs Sira Jenjaka and Parina Kraikupt were among the crowd, which numbered about 700 people.
“We are not a protest,” Sira said. “Citizens told us to bring them here to show our loyalty to the monarchy.”
Sira also said he didn’t understand why people were protesting for monarchy reform.
“The monarchy doesn’t affect the people at all. I don’t understand the conscience of these people. What did the King do to their family? Some people said they graduated from France and therefore need to overthrow the monarchy. How is France better than Thailand?”
Parina, a lawmaker notorious for her verbal attacks on opposition MPs and pro-democracy activists, said the 10 demands to reform the monarchy institution were “impossible” as well as unpopular.
“Some things are impossible,” she said. “They’re demands from a small group of people who don’t love the King, don’t love the monarchy, and don’t love the country. If you don’t love Thailand, go live somewhere else.”
Parina added, “If some people block the royal motorcade or create chaos, it’s the police’s job to deal with them.”
The royalist gathering included civilian police volunteers. One of them is Naret Wattakanon, who proudly wore a vest that said “We Love the King group.” Naret said he has been volunteering for royal events ever since King Rama IX’s funeral.
“The monarchy has never hurt the people. They’ve helped people since ancient eras,” Naret said. “Thailand is different from other countries in that we have had monarchy since ancient times. We can’t change it.”
Naret said he supported King Rama X for his “constant work for the people.”
“He’s different from King Rama IX in that he sends representatives, but he is always working. He is never relaxing,” Naret said. “He took back the race track to make a public park, and Khao Din Zoo will become a hospital.”
Members of the Metropolitan Electricity Authority Union were also present among the pro-monarchy group, waving flags and wearing “protect the monarchy” bandanas.
A pair of elderly women interviewed by Khaosod English said the movement to reform the monarchy was backed by foreign influence and “brainwashed” supporters.
“These children, grandchildren are easy to brainwash,” one said. “They don’t learn Thai history in schools. They don’t realize that Thailand cannot exist without a King.”
“These people don’t fight because of ideologies, they fight for money. Money from a foreign country,” another said.