The threat of “royalist democracy”

13 02 2012

A few days ago PPT used the term “royalist democracy” in a post. We used it much as we would use “Thai-style democracy,” a term that has been in wide circulation for several decades.

At the Bangkok Post today we see that noted historian Thongchai Winichakul has used “royalist democracy” to define “a regime whereby elite groups exploit the monarchy for their political legitimacy.”

In a talk, Thongchai observed that “royalist democracy” as a system “took root as a result of fear of communism during the Indochina War in 1970s, followed by the dilution of military prowess after Black May in 1992.” This brought a longing for absolute monarchy.

“From the hysterical hyper-royalism seen during 1975-1977 emerges the indulgence of loyalty through divinisation of the monarchy and marketisation of royalism,” he said. “This has resulted in prevalent sentiment towards the monarchical institution as religiosity.”

He describes “Hyper royalism” as “a cult and a hallucinogen for Thais through education and media machinations, resulting in self-censorship, hypocrisy, fear, and rumours…”.

Thongchai characterizes “royalist democracy” as dangerous because its “resistance to social change would lead to clashes between the institution of monarchy and democracy…”.

While mentioning royalist (non-)democracy, some readers might also be interested in a further review of King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work by Grant Evans in the Bangkok Post. It is rather more critical than an earlier review in The Nation. It also comments on resistance to change and democracy:

… Changes across the social spectrum manifest themselves politically in the refusal of a huge swathe of the population to comply with pre-existing norms concerning their place in society.

There is no going back to “traditional” Thailand.

If there is one clear lesson for monarchies from the 20th century it is that they cannot be seen as an obstacle to democracy. The defenders of lese-majeste in its present form are today in danger of forcing people to make what would be a fatal choice between monarchy and democracy.

It seems that the decision on whether a country should sustain a monarchy or be a republic can be fatal for a monarchy when it resists the tide of history.

Grant Evans on the monarchy and law

16 02 2009

Anthropologist and Lao Studies scholar Grant Evans has commented twice over the past two-and-half years about Thailand’s lesè majesté law.   Shortly after the 19 September 2006 coup in the International Herald Tribune, Evans wrote about coupmakers and the monarchy in 19 October 2006, “A law that stifles talk in Thailand”.   More recently, Evans calls for reform in a Bangkok Post op-ed, 13 February 2009, “Modern Monarchy and Inviolability”

When PPT posted this we suggested: some of the criticisms made of the Bangkok Post piece  at the end of the article are interesting. Scroll down to view them. Now, however, the comments have been removed. One PPT can dig up because it was at New Mandala said: “Grant Evans must be from another side of the tracks in Australia. I am just a couple of years younger than him, and his fond memories of a “naturalness” to monarchy were not my own experience. All of the working class kids around me thought the monarchy was something that the rich foisted on us. We avoided God Save the Queen in cinemas. We hated singing it in school. It was understood as part of a structure of control and domination that teachers enforced.

I recall my graduation from university in the early 70s, when people sat down when God Save the Queen was played.

Evans seems to discount the long history of republicanism in Australia that goes back to colonial times. He discounts its class nature – what else would one expect from a lapsed communist who embraces a bunch of conservative ideologies today?

If this statement is radical or even somehow “brave” for Thailand, then it shows how limited debate is. But, then again, if the Bangkok Post prints it, it is safe and mainstream I guess.”

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