Thailand's official religion is not Buddhism but 'Monarchy'

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By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

December 5, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- As far as the Thai ruling class is concerned, the official religion of the country, which they are forever trying to ram down our throats, is not Buddhism but “Monarchy”.

For historical and philosophical reasons Buddhism has not been the main authoritarian tool of the Thai ruling class. Kings and military dictators were always wary of building up rivals if they promoted the power of the monks. Since the late 1950s the military sought to control the monks and make sure that they were mainly apolitical. This is unlike in Burma or Laos, where the Buddhist monks were politicised by the nationalist movements.

Thai Buddhism is also a religion based on the actions of private individuals who try to amass merit. Thai monks do not usually give public sermons in order to control the beliefs of the population. Buddhism is also practiced in a manner which is strongly laced with animistic beliefs in spirits and ancient superstitions or it is mixed with Hinduism.

This is why the mass religion used to pacify and control the masses in Thailand is “Monarchy” and the idea that the king is god-like. This has become much more important in modern Thailand after the overthrow of the absolute monarchy in the 1932 revolution and the reinvention of the monarchy in the late 1950s during the Cold War. Manic promotion of the king took on new proportions during the 1980s. It was a buttress against the ideas of equality and democracy; a justification for the non-democratic influence and power of the military and other elites.

In reactionary Christian or Muslim societies, ruling classes have tried to justify their authoritarian positions and dictatorial decrees by quoting “the holy book”.

The “holy book” is an inanimate object, the work of many human hands, and is open to multiple interpretations. They claim the book comes from “God”. It is a tool used by reactionary rulers and powerful priests to justify their dictatorship and the subjugation of those they rule over. Yet the book also has to have parts which seem to ring true and connect with the lives of the oppressed and those who have little hope.

The Spanish Inquisition was all about ruthlessly rooting out opposition political and religious views. Fascism in the 20th century also sought to ruthlessly root out oppositional views in the name of the fatherland by using religious-like myths about a pure race from ancient times. None of these authoritarian creeds were based on the use of reason.

The moulding and construction of the Thai monarchy in its present form is like making the “holy book”. The present-day Thai monarch is an unremarkable human being, a pathetic creature, who has been built up to be a super human of many supposed talents, but also a god to which people must prostrate themselves. We are led to believe that King Pumipon loves and protects his people, especially those with little hope. He is supposed to be an accomplished national leader, peace maker, educator, economist, scientist, agriculturalist and musician. This myth is merely a huge royal cart-load of horse manure.

Pumipon’s statements are guided by others who have real power in society. His words can be easily manipulated because they are open to multiple interpretations. The region of “Monarchy” is a tool used by the military, the bureaucratic elites, the politicians and business tycoons to justify the “natural pecking order of things” and to “prove” that every undemocratic thing that the powerful elites do is “correct” because it is sanctioned by the god-king.

In the past, Pumipon sat in his secluded palace, soaked in paranoia, surrounded by fawning toadies. The only real friends that he has are his dogs. His dysfunctional and parasitic family were also treated like semi-gods. Now Pumipon can barely function as a human being. Yet he is still useful to the ruling class and so will his son be when he becomes king. The real lack of abilities and social graces of these people is not important because no one should question the “holy book” or in this case the “holy god-king”.

The god-king is defended by severe violence. Today the “Thai Inquisition” is alive and kicking. Armed thugs of the murderous generals use the lèse-majesté law to root out blasphemers and throw them in jail for years without any pretence at justice. Great pressure is placed upon people to “confess” their non-existent sins and thus have their sentences halved with a promise of an early pardon. This helps to “prove” that the country is being undermined by wicked non-believers.

Not only do we need to get rid of the lèse-majesté law, but we also need to abolish the monarchy and carry out a root and branch culling of the military.

[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]