Why Thailand’s monarchy needs to change.
As this New Mandala article from 2011 shows, counting Thailand’s coups can be tricky. By Nicholas Farrelly’s estimation at the time, there were 20 since 1912 – 11 successful and nine unsuccessful.
One thing is certain though; Thailand has had more coups than any other country. To that incredible number we can now add the May 2014 grab for power by General Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Throughout this tumultuous time, one other glaring fact has remained constant; the head of state, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, always remains at the helm, even though the head of government comes and goes.
Essentially, this is like a government within a government: what I call an absolute monarchy by proxies, because the palace is the power behind the military puppets that are often responsible for these coups.
Back in the days when Thailand had an absolute monarchy, prior to the so-called Siamese Revolution of 1932, the king was in charge of his subjects’ welfare. But not anymore. He is not even held accountable for any of the many negative realities within his country and which cause so much struggle for its citizens. And because of the despicable lese majeste law, people cannot comment freely on this situation — even if such comments are based on the truth.
In history books, published in Thailand and overseas, readers are led to believe that the Thai monarchy was overthrown in 1932 by a group of freshly educated Thai civilians and military personnel from Europe. This supposedly changed the system of government in Siam from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.
But 83 years later, the quasi-parliamentary system is nothing more than a cult-like system where King Bhumibol sits at the top. To the outside world and in tourist brochures, Thailand may be compared to Japan and England where monarchs act like figure-heads. Not so in the case of the world’s longest ruling monarch.
All sovereign powers are bestowed on King Bhumibol and he has the ultimate say on any issue, if he so chooses. With such power, he is not and cannot ever be held responsible for the welfare of the people. And with each coup, a new constitution is written, and without failure, each new constitution gives him more and more power.
At the same time, his incredibly wealthy Crown Property Bureau prospers every year. How he achieved such wealth and power is beyond public knowledge, because he never speaks or talks or grants interviews openly — except a few lines of scripted speech in his annual New Year television address (which he has skipped in recent times, instead getting one of his children to read the speech on his behalf).
As he approaches his 90s and his health deteriorates, he has apparently occupied an entire medical wing at a public hospital for more than four years. No one dares to comment on this issue either.
But there is still time for him to leave his mark, and in a positive way.
I sincerely believe that King Bhumibol is the only person who can abolish the barbaric law of lese majeste and set the Thai people free. I hope he will do the right thing before he dies so he can leave a good legacy for younger generations to remember him by.
Most importantly, I challenge him to declare a Thai republic, circumventing the need to overthrow his own cult-like system.
The current cycle of coups and unquestioned monarchism, the pure political absurdity the country now faces, must change, or Thailand will continue to be sick and never heal. The majority of Thai people will continue to suffer, as long as the Thai monarchy is around in its current form.
Chatwadee Rose Amornpat is based in London. She was charged with lese majeste by the Thai military junta in July 2014. For previous New Mandalacoverage of her situation see this post.