The ties between the military and monarchy are robbing the country of freedom and democracy.
With all the turmoil in Thailand today, it is interesting to observe that one so-called ‘revered’ institution, the monarchy, has not come out to stop the chaos.
Thai royalists and the royal household often surreptitiously inform the local and foreign media that the King has no political power. But a quick glance at the current constitution reveals the opposite is true.
Junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha stated last May, after he successfully seized power from a democratically-elected government, that the constitution was abrogated; that is except all the articles relating to the monarch and the lese majeste law.
That is to say, the laws concerning the power of the king, his welfare and his protection were left intact and enforceable. These are wide-ranging.
For example section three of the constitution states that:
The sovereign power belongs to the Thai people. The King as Head of State shall exercise such power through the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers and the Courts in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
But this is like saying the car belongs to the people but only the king can drive it. Or, the people own the gun but only the king can pull the trigger. In both cases, the people have to perform the maintenance and upkeep of the car and gun.
Section eight of the constitution states that:
The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action.
This section means the Thai King is like God and no one can speak against the King even if he commits robbery, blatant lies, mayhem or murder.
Section 10 places the King as the Supreme Commander of the Thai Armed Forces, while section 11 gives the King the right to create titles and confer decorations.
This all goes some way to explain why today in Thailand we do not have just one dictator, but two.
There is a symbiotic relationship between the monarchy and the military, which has been going on for the past six decades. Every time there is a coup, while the generals may change, the monarchy always remained intact. Because of this we can only blame Thailand’s current ongoing troubles on the very top; the monarchy. This is the main characteristic of Thai society and politics which never changes.
On Friday, 19 June, Thai police arrested 14 students who had been protesting against the ruling junta, in defiance of a ban on public gatherings. These are young university students who are brave and full of democratic spirit. They want nothing except the right to express themselves freely on issues affecting their lives and future. They are now confined to a filthy and crowded jail in Bangkok.
The students took part in peaceful rallies calling for an end to military rule under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The army commander-in-chief, General Udomdej Seetabutr, publicly accused the 14 student activists of being backed by anti-government groups and claimed their actions could lead to disturbances and violence.
Additionally, General Udomdej Seetabutr, indicated that a charge of lese majeste may be leveled against them, because these students may have received support from anti-monarchy elements as well.
It is against the international norm that the Thai Army is designed to protect only the monarchy as opposed to protecting the country and the people. It is now becoming clearer and clearer that Thailand is being governed by two types of thieves in uniforms.
The first, the King, wears his uniform with pride. As head of state, he often wears decorative pins and trappings, occasionally also donning uniforms similar to characters in an ancient Ramayana play, with ceremonial headgear to top it all off.
The first thief is only concerned about their stability and vast wealth, under the control of secretive investment arm, Crown Property Bureau. They intend to prolong their continued status quo and privileges and entitlement for generations to come.
The second thieves in uniform are the generals, who benefit from their collusion with the monarchy. Each top general has benefited from the yearly military budget and allocations for arms purchases. The top brass stands to benefit millions and millions of dollars or bahts in terms of commission.
And now the generals are joined by the rank and file. Under ‘Article 44’, which gives unlimited power to the junta, the military can do just about anything they please, from searching anyone’s house or person without a warrant, to jailing anyone on any minor charge.
Many lower-ranking soldiers are behaving like hooligans extorting money from street vendors and retailers in open daylight with impunity.
Unless the Thai people unite and demand the reorganisation of these two institutions from the ground up, the chance of realising a true democracy, is next to nothing. And if something doesn’t happen soon, the people and Thailand will forever remain robbed.
Chatwadee Rose Amornpat is based in London. She was charged with lese majeste by the Thai military junta in July 2014. For previous New Mandala coverage of her situation see this post.
EDITOR’S UPDATE: The Military Court on Tuesday ruled that the students should be released from jail. However, they still face trial and a possible seven-year sentence for their peaceful protest against the ruling junta.