Pitak Siam protesters.
[For more on Thailand and the Red Shirt movement, click HERE.]
By Giles Ji Ungpakorn
November 24, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Karl Marx once wrote that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce”. The tragedy was the 2006 military coup and the cold-blooded murder of unarmed Red Shirt protesters who were calling for democratic elections in 2010. The farce is the current protests by a motley collection of “dad’s army” generals, monarchist Yellow Shirt PAD [People'es Alliance for Democracy] supporters and other conservatives calling themselves Pitak Siam (Protect Thailand), whose declared aim is to "put Thai society into a deep freeze”.
While the usual rumours of coups circulate among many Thais, we have to ask some simple questions. Why would the generals, who have real power in the military and in society want to overthrow the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawtra? After all, Yingluck, her brother Thaksin and their Pheu Thai Party have made an agreement with the military to maintain the status quo. They are not going to scrap or amend the lèse majesté law, they are not going to release the Red Shirt political prisoners and they are not going to prosecute those who gunned down Red Shirts in cold blood. Military officers who have blood on their hands have been promoted and the military budget has not been cut. The government has also spent large sums of money combating websites that they deem to be in breach of lèse majesté. What is more, the UDD [United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship] leadership is managing to control most Red Shirts and turn the movement into passive supporters of the Yingluck government. No military-backed government could do this.
In the current situation it is worth considering the role of King Pumipon. While Pumipon sits in his hospital wheelchair, dribbling, most Red Shirts believe that he is busy planning the overthrow of the Yingluck government. On the other side of the spectrum, the crazy “deep freeze” conservatives believe that Pumipon is busy looking after the happiness of his people. But even when he was not half dead, Pumipon never took any initiatives. He spent his whole life being used by political factions.
It serves the interests of the military to propagate the myth that the king has power. This means that the army boys can stage coups and do what they want while claiming to follow Pumipon’s orders. To get to this stage the military, under the dictatorship of Sarit in the 1960s, had to promote the monarchy, which was on the brink of extinction after the 1932 revolution.
Naturally the anti-democratic “Pitak Siam” claim that they are defending the monarchy. But what of the Red Shirts? Among those Red Shirts who are staunch supporters of Thaksin and Yingluck, there is a widespread belief that Pumipon controls power in Thai society. They insult the king in private. But this is a very convenient justification for the Pheu Thai government to do absolutely nothing to further the state of Thai democracy. Thaksin, Yingluck and Pheu Thai want to see the continued use of lèse majesté and do not want any section of the elites punished for human rights abuses. So it serves the interests of the government to talk up the threat of another coup and to whisper to Red Shirts that “hidden royal powers” wish to overthrow the government.
Both Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts believe that the king is the power behind the scenes. It benefits both sections of the elites, who have more in common with each other than with ordinary people. And this myth is repeated by foreign academics, who faithfully trot out Duncan McCargo’s “network monarchy” nonsense.
Many religious extremists, who hold opposing views, have sought to justify their positions by claiming legitimacy from God. But God is a human invention and doesn’t exist. Nor do the powers of King Pumipon.
[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 book, Thailand’s Crisis and the
Fight for Democracy, will be of interest to
activists, academics and journalists who watch Thai
politics, democratisation and NGOs. His website is at http://redthaisocialist.com/.]