Thailand and Absolutism: Entangled in One Narrative

Bhumibol Aduldayej succeeded the throne in 1946 after the death of his brother, King

Ananda Mahidol. It was during Bhumbibol’s reign that a new political structure was

established with monarchy at its apex. He was embodied as the ‘Dhammaraja’ or God-King

which established his moral authority and he enunciated legislations such as anti-defamation

laws that would preserve his stature. The media, both visual and print propagated his imagery as sacred. Democracy was based on the righteous character of the monarch. However, the political scenario experienced a transition as Thaksin, the man who served as the Premier and leader of the Thai Rak Rai promulgated the necessity of electoral representation.


Marginalized communities felt inclusive as his electioneering methodology focused on

gaining eligible voters from the provinces. (Chachavalpongpun, Pavin, Neo-royalism and the

future of Thai monarchy: From Bhumbibol to Vajiralongkorn, 2015,pp: 1193-1216) On the

other hand, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) or ‘Yellow Shirts’ which had

remained loyal the King launched an snit- Thaksin campaign which soon was transformed

into a civil war. This led the way for the coup in September 2006 that would eventually

overthrow Thaksin’s government. Yet, the genesis can be traced back to 2010 when the

United Font for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), known by the terminology of ‘seua

dang’ or ‘Red Shirts’ demanded the dismantling of the Parliament and fresh elections which

was born as a new movement. The political atmosphere has remained fuelled due to the

deepening animosity existing between the two spectrums in Thailand. Nevertheless, the

military regime and authoritarianism of the King have been entangled in a pact that mutually

proves advantageous to both as they fear that their elitist privileges may be lost. This

resonates with the Spanish Restoration which aimed to discredit anyone challenging the

status quo.


February witnessed the emergence of anti-government protests in Thailand against the former army general, Prayuth Chan-ocha also the current Prime Minister, who came to power in 2014. However, political parties have thoroughly tried to alter this narrative, but with little or no success. The Future Forward Party had been established in 2018 with the sole purpose of curbing the military’s prowess in Thailand. It endorsed social, economic and political equity which received six million votes. The Constitutional Court of Thailand (CCT) had terminated the Future Forward Party or FFP stating that it had violated election finance laws. It also disbanded other FFP executives, including its foremost leader, Thanathorn

Juangroongruangkit and forbidden participation in politics for the next 10 years. However,

due to Covid-19, protests had been stalled which in mid-July experienced a resurfacing as his removal was demanded for as King Vajiralongkorn’s monarchy have displayed absolutist

tendencies. It is a known fact that elections in Thailand have been engineered subsequently

by the military coups as military has a stronghold over politics, much like Pakistan. It was on

August 10, 2020 that protesters, mainly students’ activists rendered a pro-democracy rally at

Thammasat University in Bangkok whereby they had issued the Thammasat Manifesto, a 10

point declaration to reform the Constitution that is entirely militarily backed, the monarchy

and an end bought to harassment of the political parties. The organizing party, the United

Front of Thammasat and Demonstration even promulgated the official demonstration in

prominent social media platforms.

The demands can be listed as forth:


1. Abolition of Article 6 of the Constitution which proclaims that legal complaints

cannot be made against the King,

2. The Lese Majeste Law or Article 112 must be removed as that clearly states that

anyone who defames insults or threatens the King, Queen or the Heir-Apparent will

be jailed for 15 years,

3. Reduction of the tax money which supports the Crown,

4. Abolition of all the Royal offices in Thailand,

5. The monarchy must be prohibited from utilizing royal prerogative to express his

political opinions.

6. The Royal Budget must be brought under the jurisdiction of the Finance Ministry.

7. Investigation of the disappearance of journalist and activists.

8. Prohibition of endorsing future coups to overthrow democratically elected

governments.

The Prime Minister’s administration responded by declaring an Extreme State of Emergency

on October 15, 2020 thereafter the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society that regulates

censorship of media and internet prohibited the usage of the Telegram App. A warning was

also issued stating that anyone who would publicize protests in social media would then be

jailed. Not only that, the King has highly praised the riot police who have deployed water

cannon with irritant chemicals. Activists have been detained and can be charged under the

anti-defamation laws.


Conclusion:

Therefore, Thailand has proved itself to be a clear example to the globe of how the royal

monarchy’s power has been entrenched in its status quo and is an over arching obstacle to

democracy. Freedom of speech is repressed to dominate the political order, which echoes the

murder of journalists in India when they seek to criticize the Central Government for its

policies. Indeed, authoritarianism and absolutism are characteristics that is only deepening in

this globalized world whereas democracies have been established to challenge these.


References:


1. Chachavalpongpun, Pavin ( 2015)Neo-royalism and the future of Thai monarchy:

From Bhumbibol to Vajiralongkorn.

2. Unaldi Serhat. (2012) Modern Monarchs and Democracy: Thailand’s Bhumibol

Adulyadej and Juan Carlos in Spain.

3. Congressional Research Service (2020) https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/2020-

10-29_IF11676_7365e0043faa317e711d8af5100f8e0f803ecc00.pdf

4. Thailand Protestors: Activists challenge monarchy by laying ‘People’s Plaque’.

(2020) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-54222524


By-

Samanneeta Chakraborty