Protesters demand Thai king share his wealth with the people

The challenge from the Thai people on the monarchy's wealth is unprecedented.

Kayla Wong | November 26, 2020, 06:10 PM

Protesters in Bangkok, in a rally in front of a bank on Wednesday evening, Nov. 25, demanded that Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn share his substantial wealth with the Thai people.

Thai people fed up with the king

The peaceful rally in front of SCB Park, Siam Commercial Bank's headquarters, attracted around 15,000 people, according to the Financial Times.

Protest leader Panupong "Mike" Jadnok said at the rally that Thailand is the country with "the biggest inequality, but it has the richest king in the world".

A 53-year-old demonstrator, who is a consultant, told The Asean Post that the Thai people do not know how the king manages his wealth and how he uses it.

She said: "He should live very frugally. He doesn't care about the economic situation, nor the people's wellbeing."

Thai king richest monarch in the world

The king is the single largest stakeholder in the bank.

Protesters had previously called for a boycott of the bank after questions were raised about the lack of a sovereign wealth fund in Thailand and the huge amount of money the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) holds, Thai Enquirer reported.

The CPB had been holding royal assets on behalf of the monarchy for more than 80 years before it transferred its entire portfolio to the king barely two years after he ascended the throne.

The 68-year-old is thought to be the richest monarch in the world, with his personal wealth estimated to range from S$40 billion to S$58 billion, according to Reuters, South China Morning Post and business publication CEOWorld Magazine.

Unprecedented challenge from protesters on monarchy's wealth

While it has been traditionally taboo to criticise the monarchy in Thailand, pro-democracy protesters, who are mostly students and young working professionals, are now openly speaking up, even though a tough lese-majeste law outlaws insults against the king.

The law was applied for the first time since 2018 on protest leader Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak and 11 other anti-government activists when they received summonses to face charges under Section 112 of Thailand's criminal code, according to The Asean Post. 

The summonses for the protest leaders, who had called for the public to be allowed to scrutinise the monarchy's significant wealth, had come before the protest started.

While protests were allowed to go ahead in the country, Thai authorities had stepped up their legal crackdown on protesters, indicating a willingness to adopt a tougher stance.

As the protests drag on, the move signals a shift in the establishment's attitude. Previously, back in June, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the king is "merciful and has not wanted the law invoked", which was why the law has not been invoked in the past few years, Thai PBS World reported.

But Chan-ocha, whom protesters had been calling to step down, said on Nov. 20 that all laws possible would be implemented against them, Reuters reported.

If convicted of Section 112, violators face three to 15 years of imprisonment.

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Top image adapted via Free Youth Movement/Facebook & Yuttachai Kongprasert/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images