Caption: Political cartoon of Somsak Jeamteerasakul and Pavin Chachavalpongpun discussing Royalist Marketplace signs which are everywhere in the protests recently. Source: Kai Meaw X
Access to a Facebook group of 1 million monarchy reformists has been restricted in Thailand. Group founder Pavin Chachavalpongpun says “Let’s fight, bitch” as he opens a new group which registers more than 375,000 members in 5 hours. Facebook also says it is preparing legal action against Thai government as its recent restriction requests may contravene international human rights law.
On 24 August, Thai professor in exile Pavin Chachavalpongpun posted on Facebook at 4 pm that even though the group Royalist Marketplace still exists, it will no longer be accessible in Thailand. As of midnight, a Prachatai correspondent reported that the group was still inaccessible using a normal internet connection in Thailand, but was available using VPN.
Due to the nationwide restriction, Pavin has made the decision to fight. A new Facebook group dubbed “Royalist Marketplace – Talad Luang” was created on the same day. At the time of this report, the new group has more than 375,000 members in 5 hours and is still growing fast. Before midnight, Pavin said ‘Let’s fight bitch’ as he posted a news from an outlet reporting about his new Facebook group.
Meanwhile, Facebook said it has made a decision to fight back. A company spokesperson told CNN in a statement that even though they are compelled to restrict access, they “work to protect and defend the rights of all internet users and are preparing to legally challenge this request." “Requests like this are severe, contravene international human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people's ability to express themselves," the spokesperson said.
One day before the restriction, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) filed a police complaint against Pavin for being the admin of the original Royalist Marketplace, the Facebook group where the Ministry found six offenses against the Section 14 (3) of the Computer Crime Act. Sermsuk Kasitipradit, a royalist reporter, revealed that there has been a court order to close Royalist Marketplace since June.
According to BBC Thai, Pavin described the group as a place where people have honest discussions about the monarchy. Royalist Marketplace has been an influential factor in calling for monarchy reform as protesters repeatedly displayed Royalist Marketplace signs in many protests since 18 June including Bangkok, Nakhon Ratchasima, Chonburi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chaiyaphum, Nakhon Pathom, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Nan, Phrae, Pathum Thani and Ratchaburi.
What is Talad Luang?
The new group has ‘talad luang’ added to its name. In Thai, ‘talad’ means a market whereas ‘luang’, modifying ‘talad,’ means ‘royal or public’.
The following elaboration of the term ‘luang’ might give our readers a context for its use in relation to Royal Marketplace, since it is connected to monarchy reform, which is one of the protesters’ demands.
Etymologically speaking, the term ‘luang’ highlights the fact that in the past there was no clear separation of royal possessions from public property. Most public land and property belonged to the royal family which allowed public use during the years of Siam’s absolute monarchy. This usage continues today ‘khong luang’ (public property), ‘muang luang’ (capital city), or ‘ngan luang’ (royal or state activities).
After Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, the separation between royal possessions and public properties was clarified somewhat. The Crown Property Bureau (CPB) was established in 1936 to manage crown property which belongs to the nation separately from the monarch’s personal possessions. But the problem remained as the status of CPB has never been clear.
In 1948, a year after a military coup by Phin Choonhavan, the CPB became a juristic person. Its legal status was vague throughout the reign of the King Rama IX as there was no clear definition whether it was a private corporate entity, a foundation or charity, or a government body of some sort. Somsak Jeamteerakul, a leading monarchy reformist, made the criticism that crown property was no different from the monarch’s personal possessions at all. The CPB received funding from the government. At the same time it was exempt from all taxes.
Things became clearer in the reign of the King Rama X when the junta government passed the Crown Property Act in November 2018. Thanks to Prayut’s regime, His Majesty has been granted full power to manage the CPB. The CPB chairperson, who was formerly the Minister of Finance ex officio, can now be any person appointed by the King. But crown property was no longer exempt from tax.
The Crown Property Act led to significant transfers of shares in large Thai corporates into King Vajiralongkorn’s possession, including Siam Commercial Bank and the Siam Cement Group. According to Business Insider, King Vajiralongkorn was the richest monarch in the world in 2019 with a net worth of US$30 billion. Even so, the national budget for this year shows that government is spending 29.728 billion baht on the monarchy, directly or indirectly, amounting to 0.93% of the total budget.
The term ‘luang’ succinctly encapsulates the problem of the lack of separation between royal, public, and private. The 10-point proposal for the monarchy reform outlined by protesters includes “revoking the Crown Property Act of 2018 and making a clear division between the assets of the king under the control of the Ministry of Finance and his personal assets.”
While the protest leaders have been arrested for violating the sedition law for talking about this point, politicians and academics have said that it is legal and legitimate to discuss monarchy reform under the current constitution.