King Maha Vajiralongkorn called Thailand the “land of compromise” in unprecedented comments on Sunday night, during which the once-unapproachable monarch declared “love” for all Thais after months of protests calling for reforms to the monarchy.
The 68-year-old ruler made the comments during a walkabout among thousands of people wearing yellow shirts – the colour of royalty – who had waited near the Grand Palace clutching portraits of King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida.
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Approached by a journalist from the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 News and asked what he would say to the tens of thousands of anti-government protesters who have been calling for the reform of the monarchy, the king said: “We love them all the same.”
Asked if there was room for compromise, he added: “Thailand is the land of compromise”.
Comments to the media are rare as a result of strict protocols surrounding the royal family, and harsh defamation laws.
Vajiralongkorn, who spends most of his time in Germany, was also joined outside the palace by other members of the royal family including his consort, as the crowd chanted: “We will live loyally, die faithfully” and “Long live the King!”
One protest leader, Jutatip Sirikhan, 21, told Reuters news agency: “I feel like they are just words. The word compromise is the opposite of what has actually happened … like harassment and the use of force and the use of the law.”
The palace has made no official comment on protests that began with calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha before breaking a long-standing taboo by calling for curbs on the king’s powers.
Protesters want to reverse changes that gave the monarch personal control of some army units and a palace fortune valued in the tens of billions of dollars.
They criticise the king’s long stays in Germany as wasteful and accuse the monarchy of enabling decades of army domination by accepting coups such as the one in which Prayuth took power in 2014.
The biggest protests have drawn tens of thousands of people. There was no official estimate for Sunday’s crowd, but Reuters journalists estimated the number at more than 10,000.
Royalist leader Warong Dechgitvigrom, who has been trying to rally people to counter the protesters, said the king had told him to “help get the truth out”.
The ultra-wealthy monarch is supported by the kingdom’s military and billionaire business establishment, wielding unparalleled influence across every aspect of Thai society.
As thousands of protesters in Thailand demand reform to the monarchy, the King has told Channel 4 News/CNN in an exclusive interview that “we love them all the same” and Thailand is “the land of compromise” – suggesting there may be a way out of the months long political standoff pic.twitter.com/GJoizuYZfz
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) November 1, 2020
Prayuth’s government banned protests last month and arrested many of the best-known leaders, but the emergency measures were cancelled a week after they were imposed when even more people joined the protests.
Three high-profile protest leaders were taken to hospital over the weekend after police said they were being re-arrested at the expiry of the limit to their detention. One of them passed out in police custody in scenes that angered protesters.
Prayuth has said he will not resign and rejects accusations that elections last year were engineered for his benefit.
The growing show of force from royalists – as well as their increasingly harsh rhetoric online against pro-democracy activists – has raised concern about violence spilling onto the streets.
Thailand is no stranger to political bloodshed, with previous pro-democracy movements forcefully put down by the military.