Written by Orathai Chinthanet and Patpicha Tanakasempipat
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s praise of a man who raised a royal picture at a protest site in Bangkok has sparked controversy in Thailand and won royal praise and the scorn of protesters.
The king has not commented publicly on more than three months of protests, which have increasingly targeted the monarchy as well as the government.
But in a video clip recorded on Friday evening while the king was greeting well-wishers outside the grand palace, he was heard praising the king presented by Queen Suthida as the man who raised the royal photo while others were protesting.
The king said, “Very brave, very brave, very good, thanks.”
The royal palace has not commented on this, as it has not happened since the start of the anti-government protests in July that have increasingly targeted the monarchy as well. Government spokesman Anucha Purabachisri declined to comment.
The video was posted on the royalists’ Facebook page, along with several other videos of the event and photos of it from October 20, with the photo uploaded.
The man, Thetwat Tanagarun, wrote, “Your Majesties have known me. This is the highest point of my life.”
Reuters was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the video. Several other people recorded the meeting and posted videos online, but the king’s words were not clear amid the chants.
The king’s comments met a huge response.
“As soon as we saw this picture, we were very moved,” wrote Royal Leader Warung Dikjitfigroom. “This is the way Thai and Thai society care, support and protect. Today it is believed that his foundation has adapted to be very close to people. That left the biggest impression.”
But also among the most popular hashtags on Twitter in Thailand, which has been tweeting more than 500,000 times, # 23OctEyes has been opened – protesters and their supporters used it saying the palace has now made clear its stance.
The hashtag #VeryBraveVeryGoodThankY has also been used extensively – along with the sarcastic comments.
“Very brave, very brave, very good for such a clear expression,” read a comment from protest leader Tatip Rwangprabebeketsere. He placed less emphasis than others on calls for royal reform.
Another protest leader, Biarat Chungthep, commented, “The king was not above political problems but he always sits at the center of the problems.”
Demonstrators are demanding the dismissal of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, the former junta leader whom they accused of planning elections last year to keep power. He denied the accusation.
The protests are also seeking changes to the constitution and curtailment of the monarchy’s powers, which they say have helped enable decades of military dominance.
Under Thailand’s constitution, the monarchy is “crowned in a place of revered worship,” but in principle it does not engage in politics – a point the king himself emphasized during last year’s elections.
James Buchanan, a lecturer at Mahidol University International College in Bangkok, said the king’s comments represented his clearest intervention so far in the Thai crisis.
“I interpret it as a sign that the king acknowledges the challenge to his authority by the protests, but he will not back down,” he said.
(Covered with Banu Wongcha-Um; Posted by Matthew Tostevin)