Meet the ‘accidental’ protest leader keeping Thailand’s monarchy reform push alive
An “accidental leader” of the anti-establishment reformist movement, Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon, has boldly made its first direct address to His Majesty the King.
On Wednesday night (March 24), Patsaravalee made a threefold declaration, calling on the monarchy to refrain from “interfering” in the military, in politics and in public assets.
Issued by the 26-year-old during a protest at Ratchaprasong intersection, the demands are the latest attempt by the protest movement to maintain momentum in their push for royal reforms.
“We citizens, all of us, are the real owners of this country,” she said, addressing a large rally of protesters in Bangkok’s central shopping district.
Patsaravalee read the prepared statement from her phone. Her fiery speech – given from a small stage beneath a large black banner that read “Reform the Monarchy” – drew frequent cheers from the crowd, which in turn seemed to embolden her.
Shift to the forefront
Mind has re-emerged as a “third-generation” protest leader at a time when the movement’s more prominent figures have been detained on serious charges including lese majeste and sedition over their roles in rallies.
Patsaravalee first made headlines when she led protesters at a demonstration outside the German Embassy in Bangkok last October. She found herself in the lead role “by accident” after key protest leaders had been arrested. On Wednesday, the young woman once again addressed a rally from the stage while the main protest leaders were being held behind bars.
She has escaped jail for now, but is among 13 people charged with lese majeste and sedition for their roles in organising the German Embassy demo, when they accused the King of exercising his power while in Germany in violation of German law.
More legal trouble
Mind’s latest speech has landed her in more legal trouble, with police preparing to lay charges against 11 leaders of the rally on Wednesday.
The young woman had a March 25 appointment at the Attorney General’s Office to hear whether public prosecutors would indict her and others, but the meeting was postponed until May.
Mind had been bracing for jail but the postponement gave her some breathing space.
“We are not sure if we will be granted bail [if indicted],” she said, explaining why the March 24 rally was called. “So, we need to communicate a new issue to the masses to revive their faith in the protests.”
Public support for the protest movement seems to be waning following a spate of violence during recent “leaderless” demonstrations.
Mind said she would continue her fight even if she was jailed during the court trial. “It’s just a change of battlefields,” she said, adding that she would use notes to communicate with supporters outside prison, following the example of jailed protest leaders.
Royalists hit back
Mind’s speech on Wednesday has drawn a fierce backlash from conservatives.
Royalist scholar Asst Prof Arnond Sakworawich said Patsaravalee was mistaken in alleging the King has “his own army”, independent of the Thai armed forces. He said the King’s Royal Guards were simply transferred from the military and police to form the royal security unit.
Arnond, a lecturer at the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), also rejected Patsaravalee’s claim of political intervention by the Palace. He said a clear example to the contrary was when the King prevented his elder sister, Princess Ubolratana, from becoming a party’s prime ministerial candidate ahead of the 2019 general election.
In response to Patsaravalee’s claim that royal assets belong to the public, Arnond said the King inherited his personal property from his ancestors as a legacy passed down since the time of absolute monarchy. This portion is clearly separated from the Crown’s assets, and both portions of royal assets are audited by the State Audit Office, he added.
Royalist politician Warong Dechgitvigrom claimed Patsaravalee’s statement was prepared by a hidden hand bent on defaming the King with distorted facts.
“It’s a pity that you didn’t do your homework before reading the statement. The person who prepared the statement for you is so cruel. Without supporting truth, they sacrifice you just to incite people,” he said.
Warong warned that Mind risked being charged with lese majeste for reading out the statement.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk