The battle over the repressive royalist regime

19 03 2012

In the British newspaper The Independent Andrew Buncombe writes of recent contention over lese majeste in Thailand. The article recounts activities associated with Nitirat and the politically-motivated assault on Worachet Pakeerut.

The articles states:

The recent attack on Mr Worachet underscores the increasingly bitter nature of a struggle over Thailand’s controversial lese majeste law, which outlaws criticism of the country’s royals, in a battle that threatens to reopen old political wounds.

It is the last phrase that is significant, especially for royalists. While the law is undoubtedly “unfair, unaccountable and has increasingly been used against political targets and to quieten dissidents,” those who campaign to maintain it actually have a house of cards mentality: if the law goes or is even amended, the whole trembling edifice of the repressive royalist regime will come tumbling down.

In fact, they are too late. Despite claims thatthe lese majeste law is about maintaining “harmony with the country,” the royalist regime is already finished.

It is not just PPT saying this – we have been for some time – but look at recent statements by academics such as Thitinan Pongsudhirak and Thirayudh Boonmee. These academics are not raging radicals but both make the point that the age of the monarchy is essentially over.

What isn’t obvious is what replaces the royalist regime. Those fighting to “protect” the monarchy are doing the republicans work for them. But that doesn’t mean that a Republic of Thailand, authoritarian (of the military or civilian variety), democratic, or something else, is necessarily a predestined outcome. Nearly dead ruling classes and their supporters fight and struggle to secure a toehold in a new regime or to determine the terms of their capitulation – that’s what’s happening now.

After 1932, the palace worked incessantly, with the support of the extensive royal family and with conservatives some in the military to make a come back. They may well hope to do the same again.

The Independent quotes the conservative British academic Duncan McCargo: “Though in many ways extremely important, the lese majeste controversy has also become a proxy struggle between different competing power groups in Thailand…”.

He’s right that lese majeste is important and that there is a power struggle going on. And yet that description of the present is too limited. In our view, this is not a struggle between competing elites, although various elite groups are staking out their political ground.

Rather, the current  struggle is one that is seeking to move beyond the sycophantic royalist regime. That regime has allowed, in Thirayudh’s words, “the central government and the elite groups … too much power to manage and exploit resources with only few benefits trickling down to the impoverished masses.” That situation has been fostered authoritarianism, to keep the masses in their place.

Hence, the security forces and the Ministry of Interior are designed to maintain a “harmony” that sucks resources, money and wealth into the coffers of those at the apex of Thai society. It has also created a palace that has accrued unconstitutional political power and is the largest capitalist conglomerate in the country.

While Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra might have “vowed her government would review the lese majeste law,” and “lingering fear that the government could be ousted, either by a formal coup as in 2006, or forced out…” might cause the government to “leave the issue alone,” in the end, the struggle is much, much bigger than this. The struggle is about who will rule Thailand and what role the masses will have in a political regime that is no longer royalist.

Thirayudh talked a lot about Thaksin Shinawatra, and finally realized his political significance. While Thaksin might be vitally interested in who will rule Thailand, he is also likely to be worried about the role of the masses.


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