NEW YORK CITY, New York — It was once considered impossible to criticize monarchial rule in Thailand. The country’s law states that there can be no defamation, insults or threats directed towards the monarch. However, protesters in Thailand are now calling for democratic reforms and the right to criticize the ruling class and the monarch. Specifically, they are responding to the call for the removal of royal funds from the king’s control. On August 10, 2020, protesters from the Thammasat University Pro-Democracy Group issued a 10-point list for democratic reform, which included calls to abolish the lese-majeste law, cut the royal budget and depoliticize the role the monarch has in politics.
The king has responded to these protests with increased restrictions and by invoking the lese-majeste law. As a result of this law, 15 prominent activists have been charged. Protesters in Thailand have, in turn, taken a harder stance against the monarch. They have recently voiced this opposition through conspicuous and creative displays of demonstration that are usually borrowed from pop culture. Firstly, protesters dressed as Harry Potter and displayed an image of villain Lord Voldemort, targeting the king. More recently, protesters in Thailand turned Bangkok into a catwalk in another veiled attempt to mock the princess’s fashion show.
The Milk Tea Alliance
Furthermore, there is the Milk Tea Alliance, an online movement shared by protesters in Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong that criticizes oppression from authoritarian regimes. These protestors dubbed their alliance due to their shared love for the popular drink that originated from Taiwan, a heavily pro-democratic country. Lastly, the prominent symbol for protesters in Thailand, a three-fingered salute, is directly borrowed from the Hunger Games’ three-fingered salute the movies’ protagonist Katniss Everdeen used to symbolize unity against the authoritarian regime. These references to pop culture are ways to get well-known thematic messages across to protesters in Thailand. Additionally, these pop culture references are used to protest while not directly referencing the king to avoid persecution.
The Milk Tea Alliance mentioned before has been central to uniting protesters from Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan against a single cause. Images between protesters in Hong Kong and protesters in Thailand are very similar, showing the effectiveness of the online forum. Moreover, protesters in Thailand have adopted a lot of strategies from those in Hong Kong. The two unrelated countries in Asia are now increasingly aligned because of the Milk Tea Alliance.
In an interview with DW News, a protester stated that the bond between protesters against authoritarian governments has grown. “We all long for democracy, so we want everyone here to support Hong Kong as well because Hong Kongers are facing violence not much different from us,” said the protester. Most recently, the Milk Tea Alliance got #Abolish112 trending on Twitter. The hashtag refers to abolishing Section 112 responsible for the lese-majeste law. For now, activists in Thailand and around the world continue to support protesters in Thailand, with a group of 13 international NGOs, like the NGO CARE, issuing a joint statement condemning the Thai monarch. With continued pressure from online activists, in-person demonstrations and NGOs, the Thai monarch faces the likelihood of allowing democratic reforms.
– Justin Chan