Thailand’s youth rebellion and the monarchy – BBC News

so thailand is in the grip of a youthful uprising inspired by hong kong students armed with umbrellas and ideals have been taking on a military-backed government and a once untouchable monarchy what we're seeing here is an epic battle between two competing visions for thailand these youngsters are determined that their demands for reform of everything including the monarchy are both heard and acted on and they're up against an establishment that is determined to keep thailand stable conservative and with the monarchy and military at the very top over the 20 years i've been reporting from thailand there have been two constants an army that won't stay out of politics and a revered monarchy whose actions cannot be questioned even today the laws here limit what we can safely say about the royal family king ranchera longhorn who came to the throne four years ago is on paper a constitutional monarch like britain's queen elizabeth in reality though he has far more power and he's been using it in alarming ways some thais fear he wants to take the country back to the absolute monarchy of his forefathers when the king's word was the law palm is a 21 year old student on her way to yet another protest in bangkok's old royal quarter here how do you want we've come to democracy monument which marks the end of the absolute monarchy 88 years ago the democracy it promised never took root here this is an outspoken generation informed and mobilized through social media taking the hunger games salute as their own symbol of defiance they want the king's power to be accountable and they want the freedom to speak out without the threat of reprisals palm reminds the crowd of the incident which helped to ignite these protests back in june the abduction and presumed murder in cambodia of an exiled young activist called one child foreign jen was talking on the phone to her brother when he was dragged off the street and into a black suv uh um had fled to cambodia after the coup seven years ago and kept up a barrage of cheeky social media posts parodying thailand's military rulers he was the ninth exiled activist to disappear in the past four years the mutilated bodies of two of them were discovered on the banks of the river mekong all of them were known critics of the monarchy driving home the dangers of speaking out on this issue thailand's rapid transformation into a modern urban nation has brought impressive prosperity but also created one of the world's most unequal societies a bolder more inquiring young generation is now questioning how and why their country has turned out like this here palm is leading a letter writing campaign directed at the king demanding that he accept limits on his wealth and powers bangla change though is not welcomed by all royalism has many passionate adherents here they're now mobilizing to take on the student movement dressed in royal yellow holding a loft portrait of the king and his much loved father reigned for 70 years and achieved cults-like popularity with his modest lifestyle and his strong sense of duty his son is a very different personality but in this crowd respect for the institution endures they can't accept all the accusations they've heard against the king why don't you support their demand for a monarchy that's just a bit limited and then you'll be giving them what they say they want my name foreign that's not the only obstacle to the students dreams of reform beyond this barricade is thailand's parliament it's packed with military loyalists it is the only place where changes to the political system can happen and right now they can't get there well these protesters are now trying to pull away at this concrete barricade to make our way through and they are spraying water cannon it's laced with chemicals so you can really smell the tear gas in it at least protesters want to get through to parliament because that's where the reforms they're demanding are supposed to be discussed they're worried that in parliament dominated by the military back party their reforms are just going to be swept aside that's why they're staying put and you can see how determined they are but they're fighting a formidable establishment which has ruled thailand for most of the past century how can they overcome such entrenched powers foreign as they feared the old men of parliament many of them unelected senators threw out all but the mildest reforms while outside it was chaos the activists had brought up giant inflatable ducks to shield themselves from the water cannon and to ridicule the police the ducks made another appearance outside thailand's largest bank the king is the main shareholder palm was there too sporting a new haircut but in targeting the king so directly they are taking a serious risk not so much from the police who stayed well back this time but behind them is the king and the thai army which is sworn to defend the monarchy above all else that partnership is even tighter now this monarch sees himself as a warrior king and he's folded some of the best military units into his own personal royal guardian fans palm hasn't been arrested yet but many other protesters have she's come here tonight to meet one of them who's also a bit of a hero not just to her but to many young activists hockey is a founder member of the band rap against dictatorship tonight he's reliving his arrest after he'd performed at a protest in july that's up to seven years in jail hockey is one of more than 40 activists charged under this sweeping national security law others have been prosecuted under the notorious les majesty law with its secret trials and even tougher sentences most have been released on bail but only to face even more charges these are the kinds of injustices rap against dictatorship featured in their first withering song protect kumi what my country's got which captured the rebellious mood of this generation the song has been viewed more than 90 million times on youtube me thai history though carries ominous warnings for today's students especially here at tamasa the king has come here to hand out diplomas to graduates keeping up a long tradition which helps build a bond between the monarchy and younger generations but in this era of descent not everyone is following the official script this innocuous little ceremony on the sidelines of the main graduation proceedings here at tamasad is actually a pretty extraordinary act of defiance something almost unthinkable even a year ago these young people have been symbolically taking their diplomas from these cardboard cutouts who are of some of the most notorious anti-monarchy activists dissidents many of them in exile instead of taking it from the king a harmless enough gesture you might think but the sports fields behind them tells a different and story an hour there was heavy but wild firing with all sorts of weapons being used 44 years ago police and royalist vigilantes attacked this campus with savage force after students had been accused of mocking the then crowned prince today's king while the attack was underway dozens died some were horribly lynched it's an episode that's imprinted on the minds of today's activists and in their songs my the last absolute monarch in thailand was crowned 95 years ago he abdicated 10 years later his powers already limited but some of the trappings of absolute monarchy have been carried over even into this century kings are seen as above criticism so the unvarnished jokes and comments about the current king heard at the protest rallies have infuriated his supporters that by the sudden wave of anti-royal sentiment over the past year caught royalists off guard but their morale has been lifted by the king's decision to be more visible in recent months after spending most of his reign living overseas in germany the king has responded by abandoning his normally and stern public persona and going on a series of very high profile walkabouts like this one allowing the thai people to get really close to him for the first time they reach out to touch the royal couple for good luck we are but dust under the feet of the king as the thai saying goes wahrong dakid vikram is there and gets a personal word of thanks from the monarch for his pro-palace activism he's now leading a campaign to get the draconian less majesty law used more frequently against the protest leaders but that's just not true because in britain you can say pretty much what you want about the queen and you won't go to prison it's very different from the situation here in thailand then foreign with their gestures and language that's the point they've already shattered a once unbreakable taboo against even discussing the monarchy foreign foreign well this is pretty extraordinary this demonstration has come right up to the gates of the royal palace perhaps the most sacred location for thailand's monarchy now by making demands of their king by insisting he changed his ways these mainly young activists opposing the kind of challenge that this powerful untouchable institution has never faced before this is a battle over what it even means to be thai the king praises his loyalists for upholding what he calls true tightness the activists say that nothing not even his hallowed status is sacred by the end of last year the protests subsided as thailand faced a resurgence of kovit 19.

but the gulf between these two visions for thailand is impossibly wide and for now it can't be bridged you.

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