On monarchy’s futures

7 05 2019

A week or so ago The Economist had a long article on monarchies. Some aspects of it have relevance for Thailand as coronation has been used to promote Vajiralongkorn’s reputation and position.

It notes that monarchy are both fragile and regressive:

If monarchy did not exist, nobody would invent it today. Its legitimacy stems from ancient ritual and childish stories, not from a system based on reason and intended to achieve good governance. It transfers power through a mechanism which promotes congenital defects rather than intelligence. It is sexist, classist, racist and designed specifically to prevent diversity, equality and personal merit from creeping into its inbred ranks.

Self-crowned

No one can miss the significance of this for Vajiralongkorn, with the fate of the male line after him in doubt, clouded by “congenital defects” and exiled sons.

Other threats for Thailand’s monarchy lie in its relationship with military dictatorships and Vajiralongkorn’s efforts to increase the monarch’s power. As the article notes, one reason monarchies have survived “is that most of the surviving monarchs are virtually powerless, and the less power a monarchy has, the less anybody bothers to try to get rid of it.”

Vajiralongkorn “is open in his hunger for power.” That should worry monarchists. The Economist also notes the palace’s symbiotic relationship with the military as a problem for the monarchy.

Vajiralongkorn’s craving of power may well be creating a threat for the monarchy’s future. The article states: “Succession is a dangerous moment for a monarchy, and many observers wonder whether Thailand’s will survive the current transition.”

While the so-called contrasts between Vajiralongkorn and his father are overdone, the new king is always going to look different and unlike his father, he doesn’t have the time to create a fully-fledged image that masks his real actions. His behavior is often startling for those used to Bhumibol’s behinf-the-scenes manipulations:

The new monarch, who lives in Germany, barely spends any time in his realm, let alone inspecting rural projects. He has a string of abandoned children and dumped consorts around the world. He made a poodle [Fu Fu] an Air Chief Marshal. His escapades inspire disdain; his rule, fear. Strict lèse majesté laws promise three to 15 years in prison for those critical of the royals.

While noting that Bhumibol was as much a military supporter as his son, and he “discouraged efforts to fix a broken political system prone to deadlock…”,  Vajiralongkorn’s recent political “interventions damage the monarchy’s standing further. The result could be turmoil as the military regime clings to power.”

If there is political “turmoil,” it is highly likely that the monarch will be openly engaged. The article concludes that monarchy:

often throws up candidates too stupid, too corrupt or too arrogant to do such a difficult job. The surprising survival of monarchies is in part a tribute to the nous of the old guard, who have understood the need to subsume their interests into those of the institution. If some of the new bloods fail to learn that lesson, the monarchy may resume its decline.


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