Thailand’s King Pumipon Adulyadej died on October 13 aged 88, after more than 70 years on the throne. Thai socialist Giles Ji Ungpakorn has been in exile since he was charged with lese majeste (insulting the monarch) over a 2006 book criticising the king’s support for a military coup. Below he assesses the monarch’s role as a block to democracy and social justice.

* * *

King Pumipon was a weak and characterless monarch who spent his useless and privileged life in a bubble, surrounded by fawning, grovelling toadies who claimed that he was a “god”.

No one with an ounce of intelligence would have expected Thailand's junta, and its herd of “academics for hire”, to come up with a democratic constitution - or anything other than a host of counter-reforms to set the authoritarian political agenda for years to come.

Overall, the current draft differs little in its tone from the previous draft, although there is a shocking additional article towards the end. The general tone is patronising and banal, with constant references to the monarchy.

When an all-female army of journalists, dressed as schoolgirls, burst into laughter at a “lunch party” with the Thailand's military junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha at Government House on January 8, it became the talk of the town.

Commentators took to social media to lament the wretched state of Thai media. A senior Thai journalist, Pravit Rojanapuruk, labelled the journalists as “lapdogs” in a column in the progressive daily Khaosod English.

Protest against coup regime. October 31, 2015.

It can be said that any “international bad press” about Thailand’s military junta generated by the comments from Western governments is welcome — especially when they demand the release of political prisoners. But none of these governments can be relied upon or trusted to maintain a principled stand against the military dictatorship.

Many people may wonder why Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai Party’s government, which came to power supported by the poor-based Red Shirt mass movement, seems to be paralysed in the face of violent and criminal actions by Sutep Tuaksuban's Democrat Party mob.

It is not due to “invisible hands” from the throne or covert military support for Sutep. In fact, the top elites regard Sutep and his acolytes as lowly street gangsters.

If you are wondering why the opposition to the military junta that seized power in May has gone quiet and wondering if the democracy side has lost, it is important to look a bit deeper into Thai society and the state of the movement.

After the spectacular anti-coup protests in late May, the junta have systematically arrested and detained key activists, forcing them to promise not to engage in politics.

The national elections held on February 2 cannot solve the Thai political crisis because those lined up against the government and democratic elections are fundamentally opposed to democracy.

The election was marred by violence from right-wing Democrat Party thugs who were determined to prevent voting from taking place. Armed thugs fired automatic weapons into crowds of people seeking to vote. These thugs have been enjoying total impunity for more than a month while intimidating voters and candidates.

The Thai military marked its second month in power by unilaterally imposing an Interim Charter giving the military chieftain heading up the junta, euphemistically named the “National Council for Peace and Order” (NCPO), the power to issue any decree to “preserve public peace and order”.

In the general elections held on February 2, 44.7 million people were eligible to vote. On the day, 20.4 million cast their vote.

Kasian Tejapira, a lecturer at Thammasat University, has estimated that there were about 12 million people who could not vote due to the right-wing thugs blocking polling stations and using violence to disrupt the election. This indicates there were about 32 million in total who wanted to vote. This compares to 35 million people who voted in 2011.

The appointment of dictator Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister by his hand-picked military parliament was such an unsurprising non-event that Prayuth did not even bother to attend. The so-called “vote” was unanimous.

Prayuth has set himself up as Thailand’s “Supremo”, placing himself in charge of all important posts. This harks back to the dark old days of the military dictatorships in the 1960s and 1970s.

As acclaimed writer Wat Wanyangkoon said: “The junta is detritus left over from the Cold War.”


Subscribe to Thailand