Giles Ji Ungpakorn
There are two main reasons why Thailand should be a republic and they do not include the myth that King Wachiralongkorn is supposedly an Absolute Monarch.
If we consider the reason why many countries such as Britain, Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands and Thailand have retained the institution of the monarchy from a previous era, we can understand the role of monarchies under modern capitalism.
Monarchies fulfill a reactionary ideological role which tries to promote the idea that class divisions and inequality are somehow “natural”. Monarchies are a statement that most people are born “low” while some are born “high”. It is only the high-born folk who deserve to be surrounded by immense wealth and it is only they who have the God-given right to determine political, social and economic policies.
The reactionary ideology of the monarchy serves to legitimise privilege, elitism and a lack of democratic space in society. It is an ideology which protects the ruling capitalist class. So it becomes “natural” for bosses to dictate policies in the workplace and for big business to exclude ordinary citizens from making economic policy. It becomes “unnatural” for anyone to suggest that we take away the immense wealth and power of the few in order to distribute it among the many.
The ideology of the monarchy also serves the purpose of trying to claim that we are all part of one nation with similar interests; the “National Interest”. This is an attempt to reduce class conflict.
Of course, this reactionary ideology is constantly being challenged from below, in Europe and in Thailand, which is why the elites seek constantly to reproduce it.
In this way, the monarchies and capitalist ruling classes of Britain, Sweden, Spain and The Netherlands are little different from the Thai monarchy and the Thai capitalist ruling class. This is despite some differences in detail, such as the functioning lèse-majesté law and the practice of crawling on the ground before the king in Thailand.
Many Thai political commentators are unable to break free from the socialisation by the Thai state and wrongly believe the ruling class myth that the king is all powerful. They are encouraged to believe this by ruling class nationalism which promotes the idea that Thailand is somehow unique. Therefore comparative studies of other countries are irrelevant. Therefore foreigners “cannot possibly understand Thai politics and society”. Some foreign academics, like the ones from the “Cornell Mafia”, but others too, just love to perpetuate myths about the unique Thai or Asian psyche which makes Thai or Indonesian politics so “mysterious”. Sharp analysis disappears among statements about “barami” (charisma) or about the “fact” that Asians love powerful leaders.
In Thailand the role of the monarchy is to legitimise the actions of the military, big business and the conservative bureaucracy. Thus, the military use the excuse about protecting the monarchy in order to install themselves in power and to try to crush opposition. Elected business politicians like Taksin also used the monarchy to help with his legitimacy. The difference between Taksin and the military is that the military have only royal legitimacy to justify their political interventions.
I have argued in many posts on this site, and also in longer articles, that King Pumipon and King Wachiralongkorn did not and do not have political power. The main obstacle to freedom and democracy today is the military junta. But it is the ideological role of the monarchy which we also need to abolish.
King Wachiralongkorn has not created a new “absolutist” regime, but what he has been busy doing is feathering his own nest. He insisted on a change in the military’s constitution so that he could continue to enjoy the good life in Germany without having someone else appointed over his head to act on his behalf. He has reorganised royal wealth by concentrating it in his own hands. He has asked the Bangkok zoo and other organisations to move out of prime real-estate land so that he can earn higher profits. It is all about personal greed and that is all he is interested in and all he can actually control.
This brings us to the second reason why we need a republic in Thailand. The Thai king is one of the wealthiest people in the world and given the average levels of wealth of the majority of ordinary Thai citizens, this is an obscenity. If all this ill-gotten wealth was taken off the monarchy we could improve education, health care and build a properly funded welfare state.
So the two main reasons for creating a republic in Thailand are the reactionary ideology symbolised by the monarchy and the fact that it is a parasitic institution wasting millions of much-needed resources.