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Thai PM Urges Protesters to Back Off Constitutional Demands

Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha answers questions during an open session at the parliament house in Bangkok, May 27, 2020.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told student protesters Tuesday “not to create chaos” after many advocated for reform of Thailand’s constitutional monarchy.

Openly discussing the possibility of reforming the constitutional monarchy is generally seen as taboo in Thailand. And defaming the royal family can be punishable by up to 15 years in prison under the nation’s “lese majeste” laws.

Prayuth said the parliament would consider the protester’s demands, underscoring, “I beg people not to create chaos at this time. We are solving these problems together.”

Prayuth is a former army chief who has been in power since staging a military coup six years ago. Since then, he has headed a military-backed government in Thailand.

He noted that a committee had been created in parliament to discuss possible amendments to the constitution, which was drafted in 2017 under military auspices. He added that it also would try to establish a way to ascertain the opinions of Thailand’s younger demographic.

The ad hoc committee set up by the parliament specifically aimed at possible changes to Section 256 of the constitution — the section related to constitutional amendments. Currently, any constitutional amendment needs the support of a minimum of one-third of the parliament’s 250 senators.

Many of the senators would be wary, however, of supporting any amendment, not wanting to be viewed as opposing the current government.

Another aspect of the constitution allows appointed senators and elected House representatives to pick the prime minister. Nonetheless, many protesters want the elected representatives to have a greater say in the choice of prime minister.

Protesters also say the 2017 constitution allowed Prayuth to be assured of staying prime minister after 2019’s disputed election via the creation of a junta-appointed Senate.

Prayuth said, “I support changes that are needed and I am not in conflict.” He has not stated, though, what possible changes the parliament would discuss.

Protests have been taking place throughout Thailand since a court ban of the opposition Future Forward Party prompted widespread campus protests in July. The protests since then have spread throughout the country, advocating other changes, as well.