As long as absolute power sits with the monarchy, Thailand will never have democracy or freedom.
There are many excellent explanations written by learned persons that do much to explain the ongoing political crisis in Thailand.
But as an ordinary Thai who has closely followed events in my home country from afar, I have a simple theory of my own. Power. Everything that happens politically in Thailand today is due to the struggle to hold onto absolute power.
During the late King Bhumibol Adulaydej’s reign, it was written into Thailand’s many constitutions that absolute power belongs to the people of Thailand and the king exercises that power. In reality, Thailand is a state under the direct dictatorship of the monarchy.
This explains why Thailand’s prime ministership cannot survive the king’s displeasure – as we saw when former PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s win at the ballot box in 2006 was overturned at the insistence of the King. This reality also explains why no one can be more popular than the king – once again as we saw with the populism of Thaksin and the supposed threat that it represented to the cult of personality carefully cultivated around King Bhumibol.
The power of the king’s hand is absolute — he can do no wrong, he has no accountability and his actions are justified to the public as examples of his good intention. And Thailand’s harsh lese majeste law makes sure no one can criticise him.
The current political machinations surrounding the succession in Thailand look more like a circus show than a state affair. Prayuth, the head clown declared after the announcement of the king’s death that the crown prince wanted to delay taking the throne because he wanted to contemplate the sorrow of his father’s death. It sounds more like a joke than truth. All the while, Thailand is in the incredible position of not actually having a king.
I perceive the whole situation comes down to the uncertainty of power sharing among key factions like the Privy Council, the palace network and the army – dealings in which the general public has no part and no say. In the end, whoever has absolute power over the army will dictate the kind of monarchy the country has. It will also be a monarchy modelled on their desires.
Whoever wins, I wouldn’t be surprised that the Thai monarchy is nearing its end. From now on, absolute power is not going to be in one person’s hand only, like Bhumibol’s case. And the palace is not going to share power like royals in Europe or Japan. They will fight to retain power at all cost. That may include the killing of more innocent Thais.
Looking into Thailand’s prospects for democracy, the future is not too bright.
The general public suffers from the brain washing of the palace. Media, courts, armed forces, and especially the army have all long been under palace control. The education system, and religions are contaminated to mislead the public to obey the monarchy no matter what. Anyone who can show the truth about the Thai monarchy has to be put away (or run away) – brave people like Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a magazine editor and labour campaigner, as well as many others.
But the harsh treatment of those who dare speak out – or offer an counter view – means that today there is no truth in Thailand.
On a brighter note is the easy access to information. There are also more and more Thais openly campaigning for greater political freedom and rights. In the frontline are Dr Suda, Dr Piengdin, Jom Petpradab, Chupong, Arkom,Surachai, Aum Neko , Faiyen and many more. These people work tirelessly and selflessly to stimulate Thais to be able to see the truth.
Of course our path to liberty and freedom can be shortened with international help. Here in Australia I am disappointed by the silence of Australian media and Australian government when it comes to Thailand’s many issues – including the dismantling of its democracy and consistent human rights abuses.
As citizens of a free and fair democracy that, in the main, has a high standard of freedom and equality, we all should speak out about what is going on.
The power play in Thailand is inhuman. It is high time that the absolute power goes back to the Thai people. If we do not turn blind eye to Thailand, a fair and just society is not impossible.
Somchai Rattanakosin is a pseudonym. The author is a Thai national who has lived in Australia for more than 50 years.