The monarchy and political awareness

22 08 2009

The Malaysian Insider (22 August 2009: “Thaksin petition puts elite in a quandary”) comments on the “royla pardon” petition and “the elite.”

Calling the petition “unprecedented,”  it is claimed that the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship action has thrown the “country’s establishment in a quandary. But the quandary is partly of its own making.”

The “establishment” has many legal and other reasons for wanting to prevent the petition and for fearing an unlikely pardon. One of these is said to be that “pardons are granted on humanitarian grounds or to people who have been jailed for lese majeste … — a law that many among Thailand’s elite find embarrassing.”

PPT wonders about this. If many in the “elite” find the law “embarrassing,” they seem to have no embarrassment about using it against political opponents. As the article rightly points out, it is the central reason for rejecting the petition/pardon; in other words, Thaksin’s challenge to the monarchy.

Thaksin’s challenge was to a “cultural norm by refusing to go quietly. In accusing Privy Councillors — especially elder statesman General Prem Tinsulanonda — of plotting his downfall, he broke a longstanding taboo against criticism of the august inner circle.” Against Thaksin’s denials, “the elite suspect he is a republican intent on overthrowing the monarchy, an institution virtually synonymous with Thailand’s identity.”

But the monarchy’s position in the ongoing political conflict is partly a result of decisions made by the “the august inner circle.” For example, from the “beginnings of the movement against Thaksin in late 2005, the monarchy has undeniably been at the centre of the political conflict. The latest book [a second edition] by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit, titled Thaksin, details how the army’s top brass in 2007 talked openly of the need to ‘win the grassroots back for the King’.”

PPT would add that the People’s Alliance for Democracymade the monarchy central to its anti-Thaksin politics from the beginning. And we should also point out that the creation of Thailand’s identity has been intimately bound to the monarchy is a royalist manufacture, and recommends Michael Connors at Sovereign Myth.

The Malaysian Insider also makes the mistake of considering that the monarchy is above politics when writing of the legalities of the petition and pardon, but PPT thinks that this is meant to refer to perception and propaganda rather than reality. In any case, as the article points out, “the legal process is not at issue here. What is at issue is the symbolism of the petition.” And it is here that the “ruling establishment had played into the hands of the red-shirted United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) by over-reacting.” Indeed, “Red shirts and their sympathisers — not all of whom necessarily like Thaksin – are delighted that the petition has placed the establishment on the defensive. If it were to reject the petition, it will be seen as ignoring the wishes of over three million Thais.”

The article states that the “large number of those who signed the petition indicates that there is a new political awareness among the masses. They have been awakened by the turmoil of the last three years.” The final comment is: “How the elite deal with this latest move in the high-stakes chess game over the future of Thailand will indicate if they remain in step with a county that is in rapid transition.” PPT agrees.



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