The King of Thailand made his first public comments on pro-democracy protests that rocked the country for more than four months in a rare, exclusive joint interview with CNN and Channel 4 News during a royal ceremony at the Grand Palace in Bangkok Sunday.
Asked what he would say to the demonstrators who are in the streets demanding reforms, King Vajiralongkorn replied to CNN “no comment”, before adding: “We love them all equally. We all love them. We all love them. the same. ”
Asked about the possibility of making compromises with the demonstrators who demand a limitation of his powers, Vajiralongkorn declared that “Thailand is the land of compromise”.
It is the first time the 68-year-old monarch has addressed foreign media since 1979, when he was crown prince.
King Vajiralongkorn participated in a religious ceremony on Sunday to mark the change of season at the Grand Palace. The king changed the costume of the Emerald Buddha statue – the most important Buddha statue in Thailand – marking the official transition from rainy season to winter.
Dressed in yellow, thousands of pro-monarchical supporters gathered at the palace and were greeted by King Vajiralongkorn, Queen Suthida and the King’s daughter, Princess Sirivannavari.
The princess told CNN that Thailand is a peaceful country, saying that “we love the Thai people no matter what”.
Student-led protests have continued almost daily across Thailand since July, drawing tens of thousands of people calling for a new constitution, the dissolution of parliament and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha – l former general of the army who took power. during a coup in 2014.
One of the main demands of the protests has been the reform of the powerful Thai monarchy to ensure that the king is responsible for the constitution.
It’s the biggest challenge to the ruling establishment in decades, with young people publicly breaking entrenched taboos by speaking openly about the royal family in public. Thailand has some of the strictest lese majesty laws in the world, and criticizing the king, queen, or alleged heir can carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
As Thailand grapples with an economic recession exacerbated by measures to control the coronavirus pandemic, protesters have started to scrutinize the immense wealth and power of King Vajiralongkorn.
Vajiralongkorn consolidated his power by developing his own named military unit, the King’s Guard. He also dramatically increased his personal wealth and transferred billions of dollars in royal assets held by the Thai Crown directly under his control.
Protesters say Thailand cannot achieve true democracy until the ruling establishment, made up of the monarchy, military and wealthy political elites, is reformed.
The king’s comments come as the political crisis in Thailand threatens to turn into a diplomatic issue with Germany, where the Thai king spends much of his time.
Last Monday, thousands of Thai protesters marched towards the German embassy in Bangkok, calling on the German government to investigate whether the king had conducted public affairs during his stay in the country. In a letter submitted to the German Embassy in Thailand, protesters also called on the German government to probe the king’s tax records.
Berlin said it would be unacceptable for Vajiralongkorn to pursue a policy from Germany, and the country’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he was continuing to review his activities on German soil.
“We are monitoring this for the long term,” Maas said at a press conference last Monday. “It will have immediate consequences if there are things we deem illegal. ”
In a special session of parliament on Monday, Prayut rejected calls from opposition parties to resign, but said the government supported amending the constitution.
The session did not yield any results to alleviate the political crisis, but the formation of a national reconciliation committee was proposed.
The king returned to Thailand in early October for a series of royal and official duties.
Dozens of protesters were arrested under an emergency decree imposed shortly after the king’s arrival in Thailand. The emergency measures, which banned public gatherings of more than four people in the capital, followed more than a week of daily anti-government protests in Bangkok and other cities.
The charges range from petty offenses to more serious crimes such as sedition, which carries a maximum of seven years in prison, and violating the computer crime law. Two activists have been arrested for attempting violence against the Queen after her procession was hampered by anti-government mobs, and face life sentences.
Prime Minister Prayut, with the King’s approval, has since lifted these measures. But the protests continue.
Jonathan Miller and Kocha Olarn reported from Bangkok, Thailand, Helen Regan wrote from Hong Kong. With additional reports from Reuters.