Vigorous criticism, especially from Thailand’s youth, shocked the royalists, leaving behind a retired general, Mr. Prayuth, who justified the 2014 coup to protect the monarchy and struggled with a rapidly changing landscape.
“Any defamation law depends on what society thinks is okay and not okay, but in Thailand this ocean change has happened and what was lèse-majesté and defamation yesterday is not certain today,” said David Streckfuss, an independent scientist. who has studied the application of section 112 over the years.
“When we look back at the decline of the monarchy 10 years from now, we can say that this moment, with the use of 112, was a big setback, a self-inflicted wound that often occurs with fading institutions,” he added.
Thailand abolished the absolute monarchy in 1932, but respect for the king was institutionalized for decades, especially under the father of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who ruled for 70 years and was seen by the United States as a bulwark against communist revolutions passing through the region.
Images of both rulers, imagined as semi-divine beings, can be found all over the country, from billboards near international airports to smaller portraits in shops. When politicians receive silence from the ruler, they typically bow down and slide sideways to show their respect.
The royal anthem is played at a number of public events, even in cinemas, and people are conditioned to respect themselves or face potential consequences. (This has changed in recent weeks, with far fewer going to the cinemas thanks to the king’s photo montage.)