BANGKOK (AP) — Anti-government activists in the Thai capital on Wednesday commemorated a military coup that toppled the absolute monarchy almost nine decades ago, defying official warnings and police harassment.
The gathering was one of several around the country to mark the day in 1932 when a group of progressive army officers and civil servants proclaimed constitutional rule and the transition to parliamentary democracy.
Government and police officials who made thinly veiled warnings against celebrating the anniversary had made clear that they also consider such activities to be subversive and undermining the country’s constitutional monarchy.
Both the government and its critics see commemorations of the 1932 event as a challenge to the continuing influence of the military in government and hyper-royalist sentiment. There was a reconciliation between the army and the royal palace in the 1960s, and since then they have been the country’s two most powerful establishments.
Organizers said about 100 people gathered at Bangkok’s iconic Democracy Monument. Police moved in as the demonstrators began to erect a white sheet as a projector screen and tried to pull it down. After a short struggle they relented and let the event go ahead.
The gathering could be deemed illegal under current emergency regulations as a measure to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.
In steady predawn rain, the crowd watched a video reenactment of the revolutionary proclamation, played on the makeshift screen. Two activists stood to the sides, dressed in period army uniforms.
They also displayed a replica of a commemorative plaque that was installed in 1936 at the spot where the proclamation took place. It was removed in secret in 2017, not long after King Maha Vajiralongkorn took the throne, and has never been found. No culprit was ever identified.
In recent years, there has been a steady rolling back of symbols that extol the 1932 revolution. As well as the disappearing plaque, statues have been removed and buildings renamed to remove their association with the leaders of the revolt.
Prominent pro-democracy activist Chonthicha Jangrew, speaking to The Associated Press as the gathering dispersed, accused authorities of trying to delete everything about the anniversary, “and … how important democracy is in Thailand.”
The current government is led by Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army commander seized power in a 2014 coup. He returned as prime minister after an election last year that critics deemed free but not fair. Most of the key positions in the administration are held by former generals, leading to accusations that all the election did was launder military rule and erode democracy.