PPT enjoyed the Bangkok Post‘s discussion with historian Charnvit Kasetsiri on the 1932 Revolution and contemporary politics. We certainly agree with his observation that:
throughout the past 80 years, conservative forces have retained a lot of their influence, making democracy unstable. It is more like “transient democracy”, not a permanent one as long as citizens’ rights and equality are not achieved concretely.
That situation is not one that has gone uncontested over those eight decades, but it has to be said that it has been the palace, supported by the post-1957 military and the US in the 1960s and 1970s, that has established hegemony. Charnvit points out that:
Initially, Khanarassadorn wanted to adopt the phrase ‘Monarchy under Constitution’, but acceded to King Prachadhiphok’s wish for ‘Constitutional Monarchy’. It was changed after Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat’s …  coup with the emergence of ‘Thai-style democracy’ and ‘Democracy with the Monarch as head of state’. It has been a long struggle….
In his reported comments, Charnvit seems to forget that this has not been an uncontested fight. There have been struggles by the People’s Party remnants, by communists and socialists, by students and workers and farmers. The royalist military has been vicious in its responses, repressing and murdering virtually non-stop during the years since 1957.
The hegemony of the royalist elite has had particular impacts beyond repression and murder. Without mentioning the vast and obscene wealth of the monarchy itself, Charnvit observes that: “Wealth is still concentrated…. If people accept their station in life, the status quo can be maintained.”
Charnvit points out that:
since the time of Field Marshall Sarit, the monarchy has been used as a tool to discredit and destroy political opponents, starting from communism and now the attempt to amend Section 112. Those who advocate change were and are lumped together as disloyal to the monarchy.
The problem is that this old regime is under attack and it is the monarchy that is the “tool to destroy the opposition.”
Charvit is correct to note that “people don’t accept their fate anymore.” Like others, he points out that the “rural poor are not without resources or knowledge and they no longer accept injustice.”
The current political struggles seem to be, as Charnvit has it, between:
the absolute power of the monarch, the so-called “Devaraja” as practised in Ayutthaya and the first half of the Chakri dynasty or the democratic principles espoused by Khanarassadorn who toppled the monarch in 1932.
We do not think that this is the case. Charnvit is essentially speaking of ideology. PPT thinks that the struggle is about the rights and voice that are limited and controlled by a class that rules through violence, threat of violence and its great wealth. The monarchy is not just the ideological hub of the current regime of power but is the country’s largest Sino-Thai conglomerate.
Hence, when Charnvit speaks of the need to “amend the constitution resulting from the 2006 coup … [and] amending the lese majeste law,” he is concentrating on important nodes that are part of a broader struggle. He gets to that struggle when he says the “problem is about inequality…”. He asks, “why can’t political parties solve it?”
The answer, Charnvit said:
politicians are not the people’s representatives – they represent their own social class. The class that Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra belongs to is no different from that of Abhisit Vejjajiva or Korn Chatikavanij.
For him, this means that the red shirts must split from Thaksin once they “realise that Thaksin’s group is not theirs.” The link between the masses and Thaksin is not of his own making and has never been entirely stable.
Thaksin has been electorally popular because he provided – probably unintentionally – an opportunity for people to have some voice. They realized that elections could have an impact. If the backward-looking elite, including Yingluck and Thaksin, can’t maintain that, then they are politically useless and electoral democracy is lost to them as a means of broad political compromise.