As Thailand’s worried establishment gropes for a way to defuse a crisis that is increasingly making the continuance of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-Cha untenable, it is the focus of protestors on the powers of the monarchy that may be causing even concern.
For it is no longer a question confined to the Southeast Asian country, having transcended borders to surface in Germany where the country’s monarch spends considerable time. This week protestors submitted a petition to the German embassy in Bangkok, asking Berlin to investigate the King over tax and visa issues relating to his residence in the southern state of Bavaria.
They have asked Germany to investigate whether the King exercised royal powers while in that country, a breach of law, and whether he was liable to pay German inheritance tax by virtue of his long residence. Already, support for the protestors in Germany is growing.
An influential member of the German Parliament’s foreign affairs committee has asked Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to freeze all trade negotiations with Thailand until the military junta blocks the path to democracy.
Asked about the complaint, German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass told a news conference that the country has been continually monitoring the Thai King’s activities on German soil. “If there are things that we consider illegal, that will have immediate consequences,” he said. Thailand and Germany have diplomatic ties going back to 1862, a relationship that survived even during World War II.
The two countries share a significant trading relationship, with Thailand having imported goods worth more than 5 billion euros and exported goods worth more than 6 billion euros in 2019. Thus, the possibility of the Thai establishment jettisoning the Prime Minister in order to preserve the status and prestige of the monarchy cannot be ruled out. Certainly, reports from Bangkok suggest that names of possible successors are already doing the rounds, although in a system designed to preserve the establishment’s grip on power, it is unlikely that a change will mollify protestors, even if it takes the edge off the movement.
Analysts believe that the government may either agree to step down or make some changes to the Constitution, but not both. But the demand least likely to be conceded is for reform of the monarchy. Perhaps anticipating this, the protestors have made it clear that all their demands ~ resignation of the Prime Minister, changes to the Constitution and reforms in the monarchy ~ must be conceded before they relent. Not even the use of water cannons or the imposition of an emergency in Bangkok was able to curb protests, forcing the government to sheepishly withdraw the latter measure.
The last weapon is use of greater force. But the spectre of a crackdown that killed 25 protestors in 2010 still haunts the establishment and with a homegrown protest now having acquired a global dimension, that option may be off the table.