Gen Prayut’s “Virtual Monarchy”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The power of the Thai monarch has always been a myth created by the military and the conservative elites in order to discipline the population into submission. Through violence and repression they have persuaded millions into believing the exact opposite of the truth. According to the elite myth, the King runs the country behind the scenes and gives secret orders to the military, top officials and politicians. Yet at the same time he is said to be “above politics”. The truth is that the military and the elites have used the weak-willed monarch to rubber stamp all that they do, including the staging of military coups and the destruction of democracy. Part of the process has been the creation of the King into an “untouchable” deity, hence all the grovelling on the floor and the use of special royal language. An unintentional side-effect of this is that idiotic royalists weep with respect and awe when they see the King tying his own shoe-laces.

It is a bit like a group of master craftsmen making a Buddha image from plaster and then covering it with gold. Soon the statue takes on strong magical powers of its own and people conveniently forget that it is merely a human made lump of inanimate plaster; just a symbol of a religion, not something with power.

Marxists refer to this process of building false beliefs by those in power as part of the process of “alienation”. It serves the interests of the elites. So we unconsciously believe that money is real wealth, not just a symbol of exchanging the products of human labour.

However, since this latest coup, junta leader Generalissimo Prayut has taken the crafting and moulding of the Thai monarchy to previously unimagined heights.

Initially, unlike in previous coups, Prayut made no pretence at “consulting with and receiving orders” from the King.  Then he managed to be photographed in front of the King while the latter touched a piece of paper representing the military constitution. It is questionable whether the King could read and understand anything about the constitution or even lift the document and place it on the ceremonial golden bowl by this stage. His health is very poor. So that was all just play-acting.

Now, the latest invention by Prayut is the “Virtual Monarchy”. No living and breathing mortal has to be present. You just use the picture of the King instead. A few days ago the junta staged a swearing in ceremony in front of this picture and that was deemed to prove that royal endorsement had occurred. No need for the monarchy to say anything or even write anything with his own hand.

The concept of the “Virtual Monarchy” opens up a number of possibilities. Firstly, even when the King dies you can go on using the picture as though nothing had happened. Secondly, and I like this option, you could just do away with all the royal family and its budget for servants, palaces and shopping trips and spend a few thousand baht on a single “holy picture” to be placed at Government House. A cheaper alternative would be just to have a digital photo on the internet which could be projected on to a wall at various ceremonies.