Rejecting the “historic compromise”

14 02 2012

Rejecting the 1997 constitution

There’s an interesting perspective in the Bangkok Post by Deputy Editor Atiya Achakulwisut, reporting on an academic seminar. It is interesting in a number of ways and suggests how significant the Nitirat claims have been in directing attention to the role of the monarchy.

It is interesting, in the current highly charged context, to see a journalist admit that the monarchy doesn’t function “according to the rules prescribed by the charter,” meaning the constitution. The cited reason for this – tradition – is not, in our view, an adequate explanation, but more on that below.

It is also interesting that academics see the need to debate what should be accepted history. Historian Nidhi Eowsriwong and political scientist Kasian Tejapira agree that ”constitutional monarchy” represents a ”historic compromise” between King Rama VII and the People’s Party.

In fact, that is only partly true for recalcitrant royalists, and Prajadhipok himself, never accepted the compromise. By their actions it is clear that they rejected it. From the time of the 1932 events, they worked persistently for a restoration.  Often that restorationist activism led to quite violent actions.

When Prajadhipok abdicated, the struggles didn’t cease, although the royalists were often on the back foot. However, their dogged determination for restoring the power and wealth of the monarchy was especially clear in 1946 and again following General Sarit Thanarat’s military coups in 1957 and 1958. The story since then is of persistent political intervention and increasing wealth and political power.

Finally, it is interesting that Atiya concludes with a call for more open debate on the role and position of the monarchy:

Under the situation, open debate and the allowance of freedom of expression would be more helpful to society in search of a new balance. It goes without saying that this freedom must be exercised along with mutual respect. Some of the questions regarding the monarchy that have surfaced recently may sound outrageous _ like whether or not the King is under the constitution _ but if we look into the facts, we will realise that it is not something that has not been asked before.

Of course, the question has been asked before, but the power, status and wealth of the monarchy – and lese majeste – has been used to stifle such questions.


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