The struggle for a Thai democratic republic continues

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The appointment of the odious Wachiralongkorn as Thailand’s new king is a public declaration by the Thai ruling class and the military dictatorship that the abuse of women is something to be celebrated. Once again the monarchy is a stain on Thailand’s reputation. See

Back in 2009, I wrote a short article about what would happen when Pumipon eventually died. It is worth a brief revisit…

I wrote that “when Pumipon dies, the army and the conservative elites will hold a gigantic and very expensive funeral for him. Resources which ought to go to building welfare and raising wages will be used for this. Extensions of other King activities could take the whole thing to ten years! Pictures of the King will increase even more”.


The reason for the huge funeral events, before and after the actual cremation, is in order to shift the propaganda machine into an even higher gear. The conservative elites are desperately trying to promote and re-promote the ideology of the monarchy. Anyone who opposes the military, or the authoritarian elites and anyone who campaigns for democracy, is being accused of lèse-majesté and of trying to “overthrow Pumipon”. The fact that he is dead is of little consequence. He is the symbol of the monarchy.

The junta is using lèse-majesté against people who share the BBC Thai biography of Wachiralongkorn. For the dictatorship truth about the monarchy is a threat. Ignorance is Strength, Freedom is Slavery.

Right now, the extremely unpopular and disrespected Crown Prince is being shifted on to the Throne. He will be under the larger than life picture of Pumipon. We will never be able to forget Pumipon and his so-called “wonderful works”. Extra-long King’s anthems, with Pumipon’s pictures, are being played in cinemas and Pumipon’s birthday on 5th December will still remain a public holiday. We will see the Crown Prince, but the words “Pumipon” will be blaring out from real and virtual loud speakers.


After Pumipon, the powerful military remains. The uniforms, tanks and guns have not disappeared. The raw and repressive power of the conservative elites rests with the army. But the generals and the extreme royalist middle-classes are uneasy because their sole former source of legitimacy for their destruction of democracy has died. That is why they will extend the “Pumipon activities” for as long as possible. This will include ceremonies to refer to him as the “Great King” (Maharaj) and the building of more ugly monuments.

If it was true that Pumipon “united and held the country together, creating peace”, as trashy Western journalists love to claim, then Thailand would now be descending into violent chaos. This is not happening. The military and the conservative elites are still in power. What is more, under Pumipon Thailand has been in political crisis since 2006 and it was in chaos in the mid-1970s. Pumipon was the opposite of a unifier or a creator of peace and happiness. The only thing he did in his role as monarch was to try to create stability for the military and the conservatives.


After Pumipon, the generals now pretend to go to the palace and “receive orders” from the new king, or even claim that he is approving their actions from his huge villa in Germany. Occasionally, when it is some minor and rather silly issue, the generals will follow the Wachiralongkorn’s requests just to keep him happy and compliant. But on all important matters of policy, they will be merely informing him of their decisions.

The picture below illustrates the military’s gigantic play acting involved in using Wachiralongkorn for their own purposes. The generals crawl on the ground to create the myth that the king is all powerful. Then they do what they want in his name and repress anyone who doesn’t knuckle-under.


If the Crown Prince is hated and despised by many Thais, why has the military promoted him to be the next King? If Pumipon was all powerful, why did he not appoint his favourite child, the Princess, as his heir to the Throne? The answer is that Pumipon was too cowardly to decide anything. The military appointed the Crown Prince because their false claim that the monarchy is steeped in “ancient tradition” would collapse by any deviation from such an appointment. The Princes is unmarried by life-style choice and has no heir. Not only that, changing the succession, because the Prince was unsuitable, would mean that the monarchy could always be changed and even be abolished.

Unfortunately Taksin has sown idiotic illusions among many Red Shirts that Wachiralongkorn will be a liberal monarch. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing that Wachiralongkorn will be liberal about is helping himself to our money so that he can enjoy himself.

After Pumipon, the work of those who want a republic will not be made easier. The King’s death will provide opportunities and dangers. We have seen that the royalists have become more desperate and dangerous. But the legitimacy of the junta and its supporters can be attacked. Democracy does not fall from a branch like a ripe fruit. We have to organise to reach up and pick it and at the same time, reach up and pull down the conservative elites and their entire authoritarian system.