Southeast Asia

Protesters in Thailand march on German embassy to demand reforms from absent king

Published : November 15, 2021 15:29 IST

Protesters delivered a message to the king via the German embassy. Photo: Jack Taylor/AFP

Thailand's king has drawn criticism at home, among other things, for his frequent and extended trips to Germany.

Demonstrators took to the streets of Bangkok on November 14 to voice their disapproval and anger over efforts to curb the campaign for royal reforms in Thailand. On their way, they marched to the German embassy in an attempt to send a signal to Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, also called King Rama X, who frequently travels to Germany on lavish trips.

What happened?

November 14's protests were sparked by a recent Constitutional Court ruling that said calls for reforms amounted to an attempt to overthrow Thailand's monarchy. Despite nationwide COVID-related bans on gatherings, hundreds of people took to the streets of Bangkok's main shopping district to criticize the ruling, news agency AFP reported.

"We are not overthrowing this country. The reform is to make it better," protest leader Thatchapong Kaedam told the crowd. Many protesters held up signs reading "reform does not equal overthrow" while others tossed effigies of Constitutional Court judges off a bridge, later burning them, according to AFP.

Police fire rubber bullets

By the evening, protesters began moving toward the German embassy in the Thai capital. Police tried to stop protesters from nearing the embassy, with authorities firing rubber bullets. Three people were injured, and at least one protester sustained significant wounds and was brought to a local hospital, Thai media reported.

The Thai Enquirer posted a video on Twitter showing protesters climbing over barrier fences and meeting resistance from Thai police in riot gear. Upon reaching the German embassy, three protest representatives were permitted into the embassy to deliver a statement urging an end to Thailand's absolute monarchy, the Bangkok Post reported. "The move is against absolute monarchy and to protect democracy," the statement said, according to the paper.

Why choose the German embassy?

Thailand's king, known for his frequent and extended trips to Germany, is currently staying in Munich with a massive entourage. According to German media reports, the monarch landed in the southern German city on November 8 — bringing with him an entire team of 250 people and 30 poodles. He's reserved an entire floor of the Hilton hotel at the Munich Airport, the mass-circulation Bild newspaper reported.

Usually, the king spends months at a time at his mansion near Lake Starnberg, just south of Munich. It's the first time since October 2020 that the Thai king has traveled to Germany — with his return date uncertain. The frequency and duration of his stays in Germany have drawn criticism at home and abroad. In November last year, Germany's parliament said that the monarch could be expelled if he tries to rule Thailand from Bavaria.

What are protesters demanding?

The current push for royal reforms began in mid-2020 in Thailand — launching unprecedented mass protests and criticism of the royal family, which can usually lead to criminal consequences. Thailand has been ruled by a constitutional monarchy since the end of absolute royal rule in 1932, but demonstrators have grown angry in recent years.

"The king's increased powers in recent years are pulling Thailand away from democracy and back to absolute monarchy," one protester said outside the German embassy, according to Reuters news agency. "This is a fight to insist that this country must be ruled by a system in which everyone is equal," they added.