Giles Ji Ungpakorn
On 24th June this year, at the Asienhaus Foundation in Cologne, Germany, I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the 1932 revolution in Thailand. What follows is a summary of my talk.
The present military constitution has a prologue which praises the great achievements of Generalissimo Prayut in achieving “democratic reform”. It carries on by explaining that the aim is to establish “Thai-style” democracy and repeats the great lie that king Rama 7th “gave democracy” to the Thai people. The pathetic king actually had to be overthrown in the revolution to establish constitutional government!
If Thailand is marching towards Absolutism, it is not the absolutism of any monarchy, but the absolutism of the military. I have explained in other posts on this site about the nature of the 1932 revolution and the fact that King Pumipon never had any independent power. He was a tool of the military and his son is even weaker and not at all interested in Thai politics or society. However, it is necessary to deal with the issue of whether 1932 was an unfinished revolution.
If 1932 was an unfinished revolution, it is only true if we consider it from the point of view of a struggle for democracy. It is not an unfinished revolution in terms of “bourgeois revolutions” like the French Revolution or the English Revolution. Bourgeois revolutions open the way to establishing capitalism and capitalist states and political systems. The successful Thai bourgeois revolution was led from above by King Chulalongkorn, in much the same way as the Meiji revolution ocurred in Japan. New state centralisation, albeit in the European colonies, was also achieved in Burma, Indonesia and Vietnam around the same time. But these were unfinished changes because the nations were not yet independent.
In terms of a failure to establish democracy, the 1932 revolution was a failure because its leader Pridi Panomyong did not understand the need to build a mass political party. Instead he relied on the military, which eventually helped the military to increase its power. Pridi once wrote, when looking back on his life, that “when I had power I didn’t fully understand politics, but when I came to fully understand politics, I had already lost power”.
The march towards “military absolutism”, which may be too strong a word to use, can be seen in the military’s new constitution which attempts to lay the ground for “Guided Democracy”. We see…
- The establishment of the junta’s hidden hand which is determining the National Political Strategy for the next decades. This opens the door for the military and its hirelings to use the powers of veto against any decisions made by an elected government and also for the military to take power at any time via a “legalised coup”, if and when it deems fit.
- The Prime Minister can be non-MP under certain circumstances, as written in articles 5 & 272.
- The military will appoint an all-powerful Senate and Constitutional Court which can veto government policy and remove elected governments that do not conform to the National Political Strategy. So-called Populist Policies which favour the poor are outlawed.
- The military appointed Electoral Commission can vet manifestos of political parties standing in elections to make sure they conform to military policy.
- The method of calculating MPs from votes after elections favours the military aligned Democrat Party.
- It is virtually impossible to amend constitution.
- Article 47 destroys the concept of universal health care as the Government only has a duty to provide for the very poor.
- Article 54 cuts free education in the final years of secondary school.
It is absolutely amazing that given this clear enshrinement of military political power, that there are some people who still claim that King Wachiralongkorn is amassing absolute power in his hands and creating a climate of fear. In fact Wachiralongkorn has never expressed any real opinions about the above sections of the constitution or any aspect of Thai society. If he were to drop dead tomorrow, nothing would change, just like nothing changed when his father died some months ago.