On Wednesday (6 April), Chakri Memorial Day, demonstrators led by the activist group Mok Luang Rim Nam gathered at the King Taksin the Great Monument at Wongwian Yai to remember what the group called “the Rattanakosin Era’s first coup.”
A police officer confronting protesters holding a sign saying "Who killed King Taksin?" (Photo from Mob Data Thailand)
They were referring to an event that happened in 1782, when Chao Phraya Chakri, then a general in Taksin’s army, seized power, had the king executed, and ascended the throne as King Phutthayotfa Chulalok, the first monarch of the Chakri line. Taksin’s palace on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River was abandoned in favour of a new seat of power on Rattanakosin Island, now Bangkok.
Police officers at the scene sought to limit the demonstration at the monument to a small delegation. The crowd refused and insisted that everyone be allowed to approach the site.
The police also checked protest banners, which included messages such as “6 April, who killed King Taksin?” and “Rewrite history.”
Having occupied the area around the monument, the protesters played music and took turns giving speeches. They also staged a reenactment of Taksin’s execution. The hands of one protester were bound while another explained that the king was behead, not beaten to death with a sandalwood club or allowed to enter monkhood as taught in history classes.
Protesters performing a reenactment of King Taksin's execution
The demonstrators then turned towards Saphan Phut bridge, the location of a King Phuttayodfa Chulalok, or King Rama I, statue. Arriving at the site, they flashed the three-finger ‘Hunger Games’ salute and shouted “Down with feudalism. Long live the people.”
Chakri Memorial Day is a public holiday observed on 6 April each year to commemorate the establishment of the Chakri Dynasty and the founding of Bangkok after King Phutthayotfa Chulalok deposed King Taksin and ascended the throne.
The 1782 coup against Taksin was initially led by Phraya San, whose forces took over the then-capital city Thonburi. Chao Phraya Chakri was away fighting in Cambodia but quickly returned after hearing of the coup. He ordered the execution of King Taksin and ascended the throne on 6 April 1782. The first Chakri king also moved the capital across the Chao Phraya River to Bangkok.
Religious fanaticism and possibly insanity have been cited as the reasons why it was necessary to depose Taksin. The truth of these claims has been called into doubt, however. In “Thai Politics in the Reign of King Taksin,” historian Nithi Eoseewong concludes that Taksin’s followers may have lost their faith in him because he behaved differently from kings of the Ayutthaya era. Among other things, he ignored traditional practices and had little regard for elites who opposed him. Nithi also notes that accounts of Taksin insanity only emerged after his death. Records from the pre-coup period suggest that he was performing his duties normally up to the time of his execution.