Giles Ji Ungpakorn
In 2017 I wrote that the Thai military junta was in the process of changing their relationship with the monarchy after the death of Pumipon [see https://bit.ly/2U73qEP and https://bit.ly/2Rwh8iO ].
I argued that the new king Wachiralongkorn was not fit for purpose and the military would be relying much more on its “National Strategy” for Guided Democracy, which was being elevated into a “sacred” ideology to enforce a conservative agenda upon all areas of society. I also argued that the new monarchy in the form of Wachiralongkorn would be less important for the junta and its conservative allies in the future.
Three years later, events have shown that things are more complicated.
Firstly, the “National Strategy”, which was basically a weapon to control any future elected civilian governments, turned out to be not so important because Prayut and his junta friends managed to fix the electoral rules and ensure that they stayed in power after the sham elections. The National Strategy has probably been put on the back-burner but could be used in the future.
Secondly, Wachiralongkorn is still clearly not fit for purpose and is very unpopular due to his appalling behaviour [see https://bit.ly/37Ci62S ]. There have been some feeble attempts to “soften” the image of the present king by much less use of the lèse-majesté law and announced measures to reduce traffic jams due to traffic being stopped when various royals travel by car. But instead of the lèse-majesté law, the government have been using the computer crimes law.
It is impossible for the military to come out with believable “wise” quotes or policies to solve national problems in the way they did with his father. Yet, the military have not abandoned or reduced the importance of the institution of the monarchy as a tool to prop-up the military intervention in politics and the rule of the elites. Despite the fact that Wachiralongkorn, as a person, is not exactly the same as the institution of the monarchy, they are closely linked and any attempt to uncouple the two will result in huge contradictions. Never the less, the more rabid royalist military generals are hoping that they can promote the importance of the monarchy while trying to ignore Wachiralongkorn.
One symptom of this policy by the rabid royalist generals is the continuing attempt to erase all monuments which remind us of the 1932 revolution against the absolute monarchy. See https://bit.ly/2Rzm7Q0 and https://bit.ly/2GB4B7n . Various democracy monuments have been removed and the latest acts involve removing statues from military camps of some generals who helped lead the revolution. Field Marshall Pibun is one of the victims. But we do not have to be too concerned about him as he had fascist leanings! [See https://bit.ly/36Ax8Vt ].
Another symptom is the fact that people are being accused of not being loyal to the “Democratic System with the King as Head of State”. This kind of charge was unsuccessfully made against the Future Forward Party.
Fear of the consequences of a charge of not being loyal to the “Democratic System with the King as Head of State” is being used to beat people into being subservient to the present military government.
It would be a mistake to think that Wachiralongkorn is pulling the strings behind these policies, as some misguided commentators believe. It is the military who are in the driving seat and Wachiralongkorn is manipulated by them [see https://bit.ly/2EOjsNL ].
Make no mistake, this military government, which is based on its parliamentary dictatorship, is a vicious, backward and incompetent regime without any democratic legitimacy. It cannot solve the problem of terrible air pollution and spends its time harassing people organising peaceful demonstrations. In addition to this it allows state officials who have committed murder to enjoy impunity. The latest case involves those who are responsible for the murder of the Karen environmental activist “Billy” [see https://bit.ly/2uBbsLF ].
Pro-democracy activists in Thailand will need to build a mass movement that challenges military rule and attempts to use the monarchy as a tool of terror. Hopefully, Wachiralongkorn’s behaviour and unpopularity will cause the project of the Rabid Royalist Generals to unravel. But there also needs to be a strong push from below.