In today’s Thailand , there are those who stand for the royal anthem before cinema screenings and those who don’t: an act of deference or defiance separating the salim from a youth movement that for the past three months has taken the Thai government and monarchy head on. Among protesters, salim – the name of a traditional Thai dessert – has become a near-ubiquitous expression of contempt aimed at someone seen as an apologist for the establishment and its conservative political and social values. “This is not a fad,” said John Winyu, a leading Thai political pundit. “Earning a living and having a future are the most important things for the people. So when the dictatorial government and the elites show they can’t give them a future, the people have to call them out.” The protesters have planned another rally for Saturday, as well as a march to Government House the following morning, in an anticipated show of strength that has raised fears of a possible crackdown in a country where pro-democracy movements nearly always end in state violence. How Hong Kong inspired revolution of Thais The students’ calls for root-and-branch reform of Thailand’s government and monarchy have confounded the leaders of Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. But their moves have also fuelled a culture war between young and old, as well as progressives and conservatives. The monarchy – which is insulated from criticism by one of the toughest royal defamation laws anywhere in the world – has for the first time been pulled into public debate, with its myriad impacts on daily Thai life coming into focus. At cinemas around the country, standing solemnly for the royal anthem and accompanying video montage celebrating the life of King Maha Vajiralongkorn is expected, though the practice is no longer mandated by law. But many film-goers now choose to sit, a highly symbolic snub of an institution from which wealth, influence and favour flow. This week, a Thai-language hashtag translating to “don’t stand in the cinema” was shared more than 52,000 times. “I don’t stand. I don’t want to, it’s not necessary, I don’t care,” wrote one Facebook user, whose name has been withheld by This Week in Asia due to the kingdom’s harsh royal defamation laws. Wrote another: “I’m sick of this society with its sick salim .” SPLIT SOCIETY When it comes to dessert, salim refers to a rainbow-hued confection made of mung bean flour noodles topped with crushed ice, coconut milk and syrup. Its alternate use emerged in 2005, during Thailand’s long decade of colour-coded political deadlock between “red shirts” who support the Shinawatra clan and royalist “yellow shirts”. At the time, salim represented a “multicoloured” group of conservative, middle-class Thais who were uninterested in change of any kind, but it is currently used to describe those who remain apathetic at a time protesters say no one can sit on the fence – a term that points to a split emerging at the heart of Thailand. Royalists gather in Thailand to defend monarchy, as anti-government protests continue “A salim is the person who’s indifferent when it comes to the injustice that plagues the Thai society,” said a member of underground troupe Comedy Against Dictatorship, who asked to be quoted under his stage name, Zero Eight. “If you support the government who wrote a constitution designed to cheat, you are a salim . If you are obsessed with the belief that nation, religion, and monarchy should come before everything, you are a salim .” In the internet age, it can be a dangerous label. Celebrities have been battered online with a hashtag translating to “ban salim actors” for supporting the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief , or for criticising the fervency of the youth-led protests that are worrying his administration. Television personality Ma Ornapa last month lost her co-hosting position after denigrating the student protesters on Facebook, leading to online threats of a boycott. Brands seen as being pro-establishment are in a similar situation – Red Bull, for example, has become a symbol of Thai injustice to some, after the heir to the energy-drink company’s billions escaped jail for a hit-and-run incident in which a Bangkok policeman was killed. On “Salim Watch”, a page on social media network Line, users can type in the name of a brand to find out whether they are salim or not – a prelude to protests or boycotts from the Thai youth. Thailand protests: celebrities defy risks to back pro-democracy movement The new generation of protesters want the government to scrap a constitution that allowed Prayuth to dominate parliament with 250 appointed senators; stop the harassment of dissidents; and to ensure the monarchy remains separate to politics, with its powers constitutionally limited and its vast assets under the control of an elected government. These far-reaching demands have so far been met with a blank response from a government stacked with arch-royalists and former generals. The authorities have so far arrested 14 protest leaders, charging them with crimes from sedition to blocking public highways with their rallies. NO DEBATE The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, the organisers of Saturday’s protest, expect tens of thousands of people to rally at Thammasat University, a stronghold of Thailand’s long-suffering democracy movement. The United Front has led calls for the monarchy to be tethered to the constitution – an unprecedented line of questioning directed at the palace’s role, and one that has made some of the more moderate pro-democracy groups queasy about what might be in store. Leaders of the red-shirt movement – seen as experts in pulling large, boisterous pro-democracy crowds to Bangkok – have raised concerns about the rally if the monarchy is further questioned, with 2,000 police set to be on standby at the protest site. The authorities have so far said they will not crack down on the young demonstrators, some of whom are still in high school. But they have raised the risk of a third hand – Thailand’s notorious but shadowy political instigators – pushing a hidden agenda with violence. “I’m aware several other parties might want to see violence, which could escalate the situation,” Prime Minister Prayuth said on Thursday. “We don’t want to see that.” The protesters say they are peaceful and are simply seeking their rights in a society that is changing faster than the government can comprehend. One example of this is their perception that gender equality is linked to democracy, according to Sarinee Achvanantakul, a social critic and co-founder of internet freedom campaign group Thailand Netizen Network, who points to the high profile of the pro-democracy Free Youth Movement’s founders Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree and his partner Panumas Singprom. The protesters’ emergence is seen as reflection of a youth culture tired of being told to conform at school, work and by a government of elderly generals. “The problem with Thai society is that we have no constructive debate about anything,” Achvanantakul said.