Republic vs. the regime

9 12 2020

Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has declared: “Thailand is not and won’t be a republic. That’s impossible…”.

The royalist general, responsible for managing the military-monarchy regime, crowed that his “government will do everything in its power to thwart any such system of government in Thailand.”

He was responding to the Free Youth group’s call for discussions about a republic.

As Free Youth has said that “a republic is a state in which the masses are the boss,” Boss Prayuth and Boss Vajiralongkorn are clearly targeted with a radical call for democracy.

Referring to Thomas Paine and calling for equality, Free Youth emphasised “the decentralisation of power, with rulers coming from free and fair elections — not determined by bloodlines” or rigged elections.

The group emphasized that such a radical democracy required “the people rising up to dismantle all the shackles…”.

The Restart Thailand campaign builds on these ideas:

This is a new movement where nothing will be the same. Awareness of the oppressed working class will be awakened, whether you are students, office workers, non-uniformed staff, farmers or civil servants. We are all oppressed workers.

…there will be no leaders, no guards, no compromises or negotiations….

Fearful of what for Thailand amounts to radicalism, Gen Prayuth ordered the regime’s “legal team” to decide if such a call is “against the law.” He’s thinking of sedition and the constitution:

Section 49: No person shall exercise the rights or liberties to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.

Any person who has knowledge of an act under paragraph one shall have the right to petition to the Attorney-General to request the Constitutional Court for ordering the cessation of such act.

Meanwhile, the charges against the regime’s opponents continue to pile up.





Memes, communism, and a republic

8 12 2020

Thailand’s social media and its mainstream media is awash with hysterical commentary about ideas, logos, and republicanism. We will present some examples.

At the usually sober Khaosod, Pravit Rojanaphruk is worried about what he thinks are “drastic ideas.” One such idea comes from the mad monarchist

Warong Dechgitvigrom, leader of royalist Thai Phakdee group, made a counter move. The former veteran politician proposed that absolute power be returned to the king, “temporarily.”

“Isn’t it time for royal power to be returned temporarily in order to design a new political system free from capitalist-politicians for the benefit of the people and for real democracy?” Warong posted on his Facebook page.

In fact, though, Pravit spends most of his op-ed concentrating on “Free Youth, a key group within the monarchy-reform protest movement, [that recently] sent out a message to its followers on social media urging them to discuss the idea of a republic.”

Pravit thinks that both sides are getting dangerous:

It’s clear that the majority of the Thai people, over 60 million, have not expressed their views on the on-going political stalemate.

It’s time for them to speak and act. Continued silence would be tantamount to forfeiting their role as citizens in determining the future course of Thai society. If the silent majority do not speak or act soon, there may be no other options but to allow demagogues of different political stripes to dominate and plunge Thailand deeper towards conflicts and confrontations.

In fact, conflict is normal in most societies, and in Thailand it is mostly conservatives who bay for “stability,” usually not long after slaughtering those calling for change and reform. And, neither Warong’s monarchical rule nor the call for a republic are new. They have been regularly heard in Thailand over several decades. But we do agree that one of the reasons these ideas have resurfaced now is because of the political stalemate, bred by the refusal of the regime to countenance reform. We might also point out that when the silent majority has expressed its preferences in recent years – say, in elections that were not rigged – their preferences have been ignored by those with tanks.

Republicanism has been a topic for a considerable time. Academic Patrick Jory states: “republicanism is deeply ingrained in Thailand’s political tradition. In fact, Thailand has one of the oldest republican traditions in Asia.” Republicanism was around under the now dead king as well. In the late 1980s Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh was disliked in the palace and was believed to be a republican for his statements about Thailand’s need of a “revolutionary council” (sapha patiwat) in 1987.

For PPT, republicanism has been regularly mentioned in our posts from almost the time we began in early 2009. Often this was in the context of royalists and military-backed regimes accusing Thaksin Shinawatra of republicanism. This was a theme during the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, with Suthep Thaugsuban often banging this drum. Back in February 2009, it was said that “Bangkok swirls with rumours of republican plots.” There was the Finland Plot and, later, the Dubai Plot.

One statement of plotting and republicanism came from royalist scholar and ideologue, the now deceased Chai-Anan Samudavanija. Presciently, he worried in 2009 that if the republicans expanded, the monarchists have little in their arsenal [army, tanks, guns, prisons, judiciary, lese majeste??] with which to counter-attack. He considered the monarchists’ arguments as only holding sway with the older generation, while the under 30s seem uninterested in nation and monarchy. He seemed to think the regime was a house of cards.

There was considerable debate about republicanism in Thailand in 2009. Nor should we forget that, in 2010, there was a spurt in republican feeling, a point obliquely made by Pravit back then. Republicans have cycled through PPT posts: Ji Ungpakorn and Rose Amornpat are examples. And no one can forget the idea of the Republic of Lanna.

Perhaps ideologues like Veera Prateepchaikul, a former Editor of the Bangkok Post, could recall some of this long and important debate and conflict. No doubt that his “it can never happen” was also a refrain heard around Prajadhipok’s palace (or maybe they were a little smarter) and in Tsarist Russia.

Meanwhile, at the Thai Enquirer (and across social media) there’s a collective pile-on to point out how silly/dangerous/childish/unsophisticated the the pro-democracy Free Youth were to come up with a new logo that uses a stylized R (sickle) and T (hammer) for Restart Thailand. Many of the armchair commentators, including local and foreign academics, suddenly become experts on protest strategy and many of them seem very agitated.

Fortunately, Prachatai has the equivalent of a calming medicine, showing how the young protesters have played with symbols, redefining, re-engineering and using irony and parody. We recall, too, that red shirts and other opponents of the military-monarchy regime are regularly accused of being communists – think of 1976 and that the current opposition, attacked as communists in 2019.

Put this together with threats and intimidation: lese majeste, intimidation, lese majeste, gross sexual assault and intimidation, lese majeste, and royalist intimidation and maybe, just maybe, you get a better picture of what’s going on.





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.





TAT and the republic

4 10 2010

It is just a little late for a weekend chuckle, but this report from ScandAsia.com caught PPT’s eye today:

Thailand a republic?

In the catalog published by TAT [Tourism Authority of Thailand] listing the names of all the people who over the years have been recipients of the award for supporting the Kingdom of Thailand – Denmark was listed as “Denmark Republic”. With its focus on Thailand as a Kingdom, it is surprising that TAT does not know that Denmark is the oldest continuous monarchy in Europe.

But as one of the participants in the award ceremony noticed “as long as it was not the Tourism Authority of Denmark who named Thailand a republic, I don’t think there is much harm done..”

Imagine the diplomatic brouhaha if it had been a Danish organization making the claim for Thailand!

These words come at the end of a report on more of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s promotion of Thailand’s Best Friends (in this case, “Friends of Thailand.”) This time the awards were distributed at what is described as a “mega ceremony held in Centara Grand in Bangkok.”





Ji on Suwicha and the need for a republic in Thailand

10 04 2009

On 3 April 2009, Ji Giles Ungpakorn wrote a piece about Suwicha Thakor’s sentence, the need for a republic and the operations of silence in Thailand. Read it on his blog, Red Siam, here.