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Thailand: Lèse majesté, the monarchy and the military

Giles Ji Ungpakorn.

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Paper given to Pax et Bellum, Department of Peace and Conflict Research, University of Uppsala, Sweden

April 29, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- There is a common thread running through the political crisis in Thailand and the regional political crises that exploded earlier this year in the Middle East. In Thailand, Egypt, Tunisia and many other “developing nations”, societies had been rapidly urbanising and changing over the last 30-40 years. Yet the ruling elites and the power structures which dominatethese societies, have not changed. Different events triggered uprisings and struggles, but the underlying tensions remained the same. Another appalling common thread that links Thailand to the Middle East is the way in which ruling elites are prepared to use live ammunition against pro-democracy demonstrators in order to cling to power.

For the last 40 years the Thai ruling class has maintained its power through the military, the monarchy and occasionally by the use of an electoral system dominated by the money politics of business-controlled political parties.

The naked coercive power of the military and other state institutions is complemented by the ideology of the monarchy. This is achieved by imposing and socialising the belief among the population that the king is an all powerful god who is to be loved or at least feared. This belief is a complete myth, but at various times it has been effective in serving the interests of the conservative ruling elites.

This state of affairs has constantly been challenged by mass uprisings and struggle by social movements. In 2001 a serious challenge to the old order arose from within the ruling class itself. Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) won a majority in parliament by winning the hearts and minds of the electorate. His business-dominated party promised and delivered a universal health-care system, job creation programs and a raft of modernisation policies.

In the past, elections had been about money politics, where politicians acted as personal patrons of their constituents, while offering no political policies. The rise of the TRT came to represent a serious, but unintentional, challenge to the conservatives in the ruling class. This sparked a military coup in September 2006, which in turn sparked the building of a pro-democracy mass movement called the Red Shirts.

This paper will concentrate on the double act between the military and the monarchy and the various myths built around the monarchy in Thailand.

To read more, download the attached file HERE, or read on screen below.

[Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a political commentator and dissident. In February 2009 he had to leave Thailand for exile in Britain because he was charged with lèse majesté for writing a book criticising the 2006 military coup. He is a member of Left Turn Thailand, a socialist organisation. His latest book, Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy, will be of interest to activists, academics and journalists who have an interest in Thai politics, democratisation and NGOs. Giles' website is at http://redthaisocialist.com/.]

Thailand: Lèse majesté, the monarchy and the military

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