BANGKOK (Reuters) – The Thai king Maha Vajirlongkorn’s praise for a man holding royal portraits at a protest site in Bangkok sparked controversy in Thailand, drawing praise from monarchists and swearing at protesters.
The king has not made any public comment on the protests for more than three months, which have targeted the government as well as the monarchy.
But according to the video recorded on Friday evening, the king greeted well-wishers outside the Grand Palace, he is heard praising an emperor, who is presented by Queen Suthida as the man who holds the royal figure While others were protesting.
“Very brave, very brave, very good, thank you,” said the king.
The Royal Palace made no comment, as it has not been well targeted as a monarchy since the anti-government protests began in July. Government spokeswoman Anucha Burapachari declined to comment.
The video was posted on Royalist’s Facebook page along with several other videos of the incident and pictures from October 20 of hers as well.
“Majesties recognized me. This is the highest point of my life,” wrote Man, Thitwat Tanagarun.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the video. Several others recorded the encounter in the incident and posted the video online, but Raja’s words were not clear amid chanting.
Raja’s comments evoked great response.
“Just looking at this picture, we are very touched,” Royalist leader Warong Dechigvigrom posted. “It is the Thai way and the Thai society of care, support and defense. Today it is believed that their institution has adapted to be very close to the people. It has made the biggest impression.”
But in addition to the top trending hashtag on Twitter in Thailand, tweeted more than 500,000 times, # 23OctEyesOpened – used by protesters and their supporters, stating that the Palace has now made its position clear.
The hashtag #VeryBraveVeryGoodThankYou was also widely used – with sarcastic comments.
“Very brave, very brave, very good for such a clear expression,” read a comment by protest leader Tatap Rungprapitasire. He has placed less emphasis on the call for imperial reform than others.
Another protest leader, Pirat Chongtape, commented: “The king is not above political problems, but always resides at the heart of problems.”
The protesters demanded the removal of Prime Minister Prathuth Chan-Okha, a former junta leader who was accused of electing engineering last year to keep him in power. He denies the charge.
The protests also seek to alter the constitution and reduce the powers of the monarchy, which they say has helped enable military domination for decades.
Under Thailand’s constitution, the monarchy “revels in a state of reverential worship” but in principle it does not engage in politics – a point the king underscored during elections last year.
James Buchanan, a lecturer at Mahidol University International College in Bangkok, said King’s comments marked his apparent intervention in Thailand’s crisis.
“I interpret it as a sign that the king accepts a challenge to his authority by protest, but will not back down”, he said.
(Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; written by Matthew Tostwin)