Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn has called for “order and peace” in the country but stayed silent about the recent anti-government student protests that have urged reforms of the powerful monarchy, as he swore in a new cabinet of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The ceremony on Wednesday marked the king’s first public appearance since the nearly unprecedented calls in two student-led protests for curbing the new powers King Vajiralongkorn has amassed since taking the throne after the death of his father in 2016.
The king, as head of state, gave his blessing to the new cabinet members, wishing “good health and wisdom to have the strength to perform your duties according to your oaths”.
He also expressed a desire “for the happiness of the people, happiness of the public and for order and peace”.
He did not publicly acknowledge the student protests, some of which defied “lese majeste” laws against insulting the monarchy that carry a maximum 15-year prison sentence.
Wednesday’s swearing-in of the new cabinet members follows the resignation last month of six ministers under Prayuth, amid governing party internal disputes as the government faces the growing protest movement.
Among the six new cabinet members are veteran banking executive Predee Daochai as finance minister and Supattanapong Punmeechaow as energy minister.
The student protesters, calling for reforms of the monarchy, have also demanded that Prayuth’s government resign.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Prayuth had said the thousands of student protesters “went too far” after some issued a 10-point call for reform of the monarchy, which is considered semi-divine in the country’s conservative culture.
The students’ new demands included a reversal of a 2019 order that transferred two army units to the king’s personal command, and a 2017 law that gave him full control of the crown’s extensive property holdings.
It also urged the king to refrain from endorsing any military takeover in the future.
While the monarchy has refrained from taking more aggressive response, there have been reports it asked several media companies to remove any mention of the demands listed by the students.
So far, there have also been no protest leaders charged under the lese majeste laws, though two key leaders were arrested on charges including sedition and violating coronavirus regulations on large gatherings before being released on bail.