Some 30,000 demonstrators turned out over the weekend, the largest show of force since the near-daily student-led rallies began two months ago.
They are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a former army chief who masterminded the 2014 coup.
Many are also calling for the monarchy to stay out of politics and installed a “People’s Plaque” in historic Sanam Luang park near Bangkok’s Grand Palace on Sunday morning.
By Monday the plaque had vanished, but demonstrators remained unbowed.
The plaque was also “planted in the hearts of the Thai people”, prominent activist Parit Chiwarak, told reporters, vowing that protesters would make replicas and install them across the city.
“Our fight in the past two days is historic. The plaque is just the beginning of the fight for the monarchy to be reformed.”
– ‘Down with feudalism!’ –
The plaque had read: “The people have expressed the intention that this country belongs to the people, and not the king.”
At its installation during Saturday’s protest, the crowd cheered as Parit shouted “Down with feudalism, long live the people”.
The almost-immediate removal of the plaque reflects that “arch-royalists are not only incensed by demands for monarchical reform but are not going to put up with any symbols that even reflect opposition to the palace,” said Paul Chambers of Naresuan University.
The new medallion referenced the original brass one embedded for decades in the grounds of Bangkok’s Royal Plaza.
It commemorated the end of royal absolutism in 1932 after a revolution that transitioned the kingdom into a constitutional monarchy.
But it mysteriously disappeared in 2017 — after King Maha Vajiralongkorn took power following the death of his father — and was replaced with one bearing a reminder for Thais to remain loyal to the “nation, religion, king”.
– ‘Hurting Thais’ feelings’ –
Charges have been filed against the protesters for “making alterations to an archaeological area without permission”, confirmed Sataporn Tiengdham, from the Archaeology of Fine Arts, an accusation denied by Parit.
“We just entered the park and left. We didn’t cause any damage.”
If convicted, the protesters could face three years in jail.
Bangkok’s deputy police chief Piya Tawichai told AFP they were investigating the case.
The largely leaderless youth-organised movement, partly inspired by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, is calling for Prayut’s government to be dissolved, a rewrite of the 2017 military-scripted constitution, as well as the scrapping of Thailand’s draconian royal defamation law, known as “112”.
Each charge under the law carries a sentence of up to 15 years in jail.
Authorities have so far refrained from using the law against pro-democracy activists, instead accusing them of sedition and breaking coronavirus regulations.
Premier Prayut on Monday thanked authorities for their “patience” over the weekend but warned the “nation, religion and monarchy are respected” by everyone.
Even as #abolish112 was the top-trending topic on Thai Twitter, one prominent royalist told AFP he had filed a complaint with the police under the law against three protesters, including Parit.
“Their actions are insulting,” said Tul Sittisomwong.
“Insulting the monarchy hurts the feelings of all Thais.”