The monarchy in question

20 04 2010

Sin-ming Shaw at Project Syndicate (which seems to have some interesting members) has a think piece on Thailand’s current political fight and the role of the monarchy. It begins: “Thailand’s political and social fabric is fraying. Indeed, the country’s future looks as shaky as it has never been.”

It believes that in the past, “four broad groups has held Thailand together: the ‘Palace’ – a euphemism used here to avoid violating draconian lèse majesté laws; big business, the custodian of economic growth; the military, which ensures, first and foremost, the sanctity of the Palace and the moral values it represents; and the common people, mostly rural and urban poor, who accept the rule of the other three estates.” All this hid behind a national mythology of “compassion and harmony under the benevolent grace and blessings of the Palace and the generosity of big business.”

The paper says: “Many believe that the current crisis will pass, and that Thailand will revert to its historical harmony among the four groups. But this view ignores the country’s new political dynamics.” It provides the example of “Thailand’s lower classes [who] have decided that docility is a thing of the past. They are angry and frustrated by the status quo.” Meanwhile, “the wealthy dwell in air-conditioned houses, travel in chauffeur-driven cars, and shop in luxury malls, apparently oblivious to how the rest of the country lives.”

Then to the monarchy: “the unspoken issue behind Thailand’s unrest is that, with the country’s 82-year-old king ailing, the Palace’s moral force has come into question. Indeed, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Pirmoya, breaking taboos that have governed the country for years, recently spoke about the need to re-examine the country’s lèse majesté laws so that public discourse could intelligently address the role of the Palace in Thailand’s future. What Thaksin did for the poor required only political self-interest. Yet even that elementary wisdom has never occurred to traditional ruling elites too set in their myopic and arrogant ways. Until it does, Thailand’s otherwise promising future will be increasingly remote.”

The Wall Street Journal (21 April 2010) in an article titled “Breaking a Thai Taboo,” begins from Kasit’s comments last week about the need to talk about the monarchy and lese majeste. The WSJ says that this is “a welcome and overdue suggestion, especially from a politician known to be in the royalist camp.”

Assuming that “most” Thais want the monarchy to continue, the Journal observes that “it is currently almost impossible to have a reasoned discussion about the king’s role. That’s because the country has one of the world’s strictest lese majeste laws. Any criticism of any member of the royal family, no matter how mild, is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.”

Like so many others, it repeats the mythical comments about the king wanting criticism; all we’d observe is that this claim and statement has yet to be proven.

The Journal then runs through material that would be well-known to regular readers of this blog. It mentions the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn. Then the Journal makes a claim that the authorities in Bangkok will have choking on their khao tom in the morning: “This would all count for less if King Bhumibol were a figurehead, but he has long played an active role in Thailand’s politics.” PPT added the emphasis.

The link between the palace and the military is then explained – a link that has been forgotten in so much that has been written in recent weeks. The WSJ also mentiones the same ruling groups as Shaw lists above: “a loose and evolving triumvirate of the military, nobility and established families of ethnic Chinese businessmen.”

The newspaper then observes: “The present conflict is the result of long-festering resentment among rural and working-class Thais that their democratic voice has been ignored.”

Both articles are worth reading in full.



One response

11 05 2010
What we want you to believe « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] to the article by Sin-Ming Shaw, which got considerable international syndication. PPT posted on it here. Thana states that the article “contains a number of misunderstandings that make his analysis […]

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