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College of Arts and Sciences

After targeting king’s legitimacy, Thai protest hits at his wealth

By: Staff
A&S Communications
November 23, 2020

Protesters in Thailand are accelerating their campaigns against the government by planning a rally in front of a key agency building on Wednesday.

Tamara Loos, professor of history and Thai studies at Cornell University, says that by picking this specific location protesters want to strike a blow to the financial basis for the king’s power and wealth.

“This Wednesday, Thai protesters planned to march on the Crown Property Bureau, the source of King Vajiralongkorn’s enormous wealth. Because of the massive police force prepared to block their demonstrations, protesters will target Siam Commercial Bank, in which the CPB is the single largest shareholder. The CPB manages the monarchy’s wealth, which derives from prime real estate in Bangkok and the provinces, major shares in the Siam Commercial Bank, and stakes in the country’s largest industrial conglomerate, the Siam Cement Company. 

“The property holdings in Bangkok and shares in these two companies alone are worth roughly $40 billion. In June 2018, King Vajiralongkorn claimed the CPB as his personal wealth. He now has the power to appoint and remove all board members and spend the assets as he pleases. What makes this particularly egregious is that the king lives lavishly abroad while Thai people experience hardship caused by their economy shrinking over 6%.

“Those whose livelihoods depend on tourism are hardest hit. They lead a life of precarity in stark contrast to the king who uses CPB funds to support a fleet of nearly 40 helicopters and jets. In addition to the funds generated by the CPB, Thai people pay over $1 billion in costs generated by the monarchy to support the salaries of the staff working in the Royal Household Bureau, royal security, and the media machinery that propagates the monarchy’s image. Last week, protesters attacked the legal basis of the king’s power by marching on parliament to demand changes to the constitution that would place the monarchy under law.

“This week they target the financial basis of the king’s power. The PM has announced he will begin implementing Article 112 again, which allows authorities to arrest anyone who commits lèse majesté so we can expect more arrests as well as continued use of water cannons, police in riot gear, and tear gas. However, it is crucial to note that these young protesters have permanently transformed public culture regarding the monarchy, which will be subject to continued critique. Cracking down on protesters now only delays a future conflict between those who want genuine change in Thailand’s political institutions and the military."

For media inquiries, contact Linda Glaser, news & media relations manager, lbg37@cornell.edu, 607-255-8942

Photo: King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Rama X of Thailand/The Public Relations Department. Creative Commons attribution 3.0 Thailand.