Praising the monarch’s constitutionalism

30 09 2010

A couple of days ago the Bangkok Post had a longish article on a new book – three volumes, in fact – by “[j]ournalist and biographer Vimolphun Peetathawatchai [who] has launched Ek Kasattra Tai Rattadhammanoon, or The Great Constitutional Monarch, a new look at His Majesty the King’s role as it has pertained to constitutions.”

It will be available at bookstores in early october, and will probably not be sitting next to the new works by David Streckfuss and the edited collection by Søren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager. This is because the new book is unlikely to be a critical examination of anything controversial, despite the claims made in this story.

Bias! We hear the shouts already about our last paragraph. How can we say such a thing without even seeing the book?! Easy, really. For one thing, the crackdown on anything that is critical of the monarchy has been so complete under this Abhisit Vejjajiva regime that we seriously doubt this publication would be published if it was such an account. Second, just read the story; it seems that nationalism will over-rule any scholarly thoughts.

The report in the Post breathlessly claims that the book “touches on many hush-hush topics including how His Majesty has exercised his constitutional authority in times of political turmoil and coups.” Why on earth should that be “hush-hush”? The actions of a constitutional monarchy are meant to be legal, transparent and open to parliamentary scrutiny, not “hush-hush.”

It is also claimed that “another highlight is the book’s coverage of the death of King Rama VIII, a topic with which the author is deeply familiar after having written a book on the subject 40 years ago.” Again, nothing new is likely to be unearthed on this in a book available in censored Thailand.

Vimolphun makes her stand clear: “We have not had a book that addresses His Majesty as a constitutional monarch. Indeed, His Majesty has had a highly distinguished role in defining the role of the monarchy under constitutions…”.

Then there is the nationalist flag flying: “Surprisingly, we let foreign critics lead our opinion and criticise His Majesty’s role under the constitution even though we may not know whether they are properly informed about the issue. Yet some critics lacking these facts will still write a lot on the subject from their perspectives.” Heavens to Betsy! The damned foreigners have criticized the king!

Then the rags are out polishing royal hindquarters. One “critic” said: “The book makes us look at our King as a human being who has feelings … a flesh and blood human. It is a perspective we Thais hardly take towards our beloved King.” Former central banker and minor royal MR Pridiyathorn Devakula “praised the book for its valuable and rare information.” He added: “It is a must read for every Thai…”. He added: “the book made him feel proud to be Thai and have a king who cares so deeply of his subjects…. I feel assured that His Majesty understands politics and can help in solving the political crisis. If I have a chance to be reborn, I would want to be Thai again…”.

It really does sound like this is the usual hagiographical and royalist clap trap. Wouldn’t it be nice if PPT was wrong.



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