Thousands of people held rallies in Thailand on Wednesday to show support for the country’s monarchy.
The demonstrations in two southern provinces were in response to ongoing pro-democracy protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and reforms to the monarchy.
In Songkhla province, as many as 2,000 people wearing yellow shirts, a symbol of the pro-monarchy movement, flocked the streets in a show of loyalty to the king and the institution.
They carried pictures of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and ruling King Maha Vajiralongkorn and shouted slogans in favor of the monarchy.
A representative of the group said they have sent a letter to the prime minister asking the government to take action against anyone who opposes the royalty.
Over in Narathiwat province, more than 12,000 people attended a rally organized by the ruling Palang Pracharat party, urging the government to protect the royal institution.
The idea of monarchy reforms is considered a taboo in Thailand, with the king protected from insults and criticism under the lese majeste law.
The Thai monarchy is protected by Section 112 of the country’s Penal Code, under which anyone found guilty of defaming, insulting, or threatening the king, the queen, the heir-apparent, or the Regent can be jailed for three to 15 years.
Warong Dejkitvigrom, a former Democratic Party lawmaker and loyal Thai group leader, said the pro-democracy protesters’ demands were not legitimate, especially those concerning the monarchy.
“Our nation has been peaceful because of the monarchy,” he said, adding that he was confident the government would be able to handle the current political crisis.
Suchart Chomklin, the country’s labor minister, urged people to exercise their power to protect the monarchy.
He said everyone has the freedom to express themselves to guard the beloved royal institution.
“There are a lot more people [in Thailand] who love the monarchy,” Suchart said in a Facebook post.
The governor of Thailand’s central bank expressed concerns over the impact of the ongoing political unrest, but said the economy is resilient enough to survive any shock.
According to Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput, the economy is expected to contract 7.8% this year and will only start growing in the second quarter of 2021.
He said Thailand’s tourism-reliant economy has been crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic and will take much time to recover.
The coronavirus crisis resulted in a sharp drop – from about 40 million to less than 7 million – in the number of tourists in Thailand, denting 10% of the country’s gross domestic product.
“Our current economic state can be compared to a patient who is slowly coming out of intensive care,” he said, adding that it will take at least two years for the economy to return to pre-pandemic levels.
* Writing by Maria Elisa Hospita in Jakarta
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