Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand (Nias Studies in Asian Topics)
The nine essays and the deft summary in the introduction present analyses of the meaning of the Thai monarchy in the present and the recent past. As the editors note in the introduction, a monarchy like any other institution is constantly being made and remade. The immense changes over the present reign make that abundantly clear.
This book is a valuable contribution to a growing literature that helps to make this institution and its complex dynamics more understandable. Given the dearth of critical scholarship on the monarchy there is much in the volume that will interest readers. Well versed in the histories of Laos and Thailand, he is particularly interested in nationalism, state formation and historiography in these countries. Lotte Isager is an anthropologist and geographer working at the University of Copenhagen.
Her primary research interests are environmental management, agrarian change, governance and identity politics in Southeast Asia and East Africa. Cart: 0 Log in or Create an account Menu. Home About Us Silkworm Books. Mekong Press. The Publisher. Contact Information.
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Review Copies. Manuscript submissions. Tax Invoice Request. Distribution in Thailand. International Distribution. Payment Methods. This also provided a means by which the king could build up the royal treasury Gray, From an anthropological view, Gray noted that the growth of ritual in the Chakri court was also the growth of the king's naming prerogatives and his ability to structure perceptions about life, production and power in the world.
This power was a right by virtue of his kingly position as among the highest interpreters of the Buddhist dharma Gray, During her fieldwork Gray was granted privileged access to court and ceremonial functionaries and she repays the gift with fine scholarship. This was no less than an attempt to conceal and gloss the brutal massacre of October at Thammasat University.
The elevated status of the monarch derives from this ideological work; its proximity being so recent one wonders at the mechanisms of its success, and the cultural residues on which that success drew. This, perhaps, evinces an academic caution all too familiar to scholars who worked on Indonesia during the Suharto period or indeed on any region where academics either obscure critique or accept certain matters as untouchable.
That there was room for critical engagement is evident. Towards the end of his widely acclaimed Siam Mapped, Thongchai writes excoriatingly of the monarchy's symbolic violence in promoting Thainess. Pasuk and Baker provided scholarly interpretation of Thailand's broad transformation and, in the process, examined the role of the monarchy with critical balance. He proved it was possible to be very controversial.
Saying the Unsayable : Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand
It is true that all of the above largely played the institution, not the person. In the s, some Thai scholars wrote newspaper columns that deliberately avoided using, as is customary, Bhumibol's full title and instead simply referred to him as king kasat , indicating at least a disenchanted stance towards the monarchy. One such scholar explained to this author that he chose not to bother with royal language the verbal prefixes and nouns that sound very affected in a deliberate attempt to demystify the institution.
He explained his good fortune in not getting into trouble on the basis that he was not important. On that point, the then not so well-known Giles Ji Ungphakorn, at the Eighth International Thai Studies Conference in the north-eastern city of Nakhon Phanom, said that he preferred a republican form of government over the current system. In exile and feeling free of the suffocating caution required when writing about the monarchy, his work has grown more critical both of the monarchy and of those who want to make it a central issue: as he sees it, the military is the might behind the throne see Walker and Farrelly, Such overtly political prose that reaches a sizeable audience and that aims at political action is clearly not allowed.
And it is the latter, of course, which is the more dangerous. But before recent events forced open the window for critical commentary, it was clear that academically critical works could be published and that there was no reason for silence. The silence was in part born of fear — reasonably held by Thais — of excommunication; but the silence was also purposeful in the sense that it represented a willingness to see the political world the way the national elite fashioned it see Ockey , and a reactive belief that if the monarchy could not be resisted then it could be harnessed to progressive purpose and that claims could be made upon it.
This reactive response colours the last two decades, and it is this more than the STV which is now under threat. That the work under review is not obscure, oblique, or pollyannaish about the monarchy bespeaks a new time when popular and intra-elite struggle has punched a hole through the quasi-consensus surrounding the monarchy, expanding the space for a more honest reckoning of Thai history.
That such a point has been reached can be seen in several respects. Since , predecessors of the anti-coup red-shirt movement called for Bhumibol to remove several appointees to the Privy Council, including its President General Prem Tinsulanonda, for his apparent role in the coup of In July , this author saw protestors at Sanam Luang throw ping-pong balls and darts at a caricature of General Prem, drawn with pursed pink lips and an ornate earring garnishing the side of his face.
It was in its own way no less than a public death of deference: the constitution states that appointment or removal from the Privy Council is the sole prerogative of the monarch, but the red shirts continue to call for Prem's removal.
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Critical, if oblique, works have emerged or re-emerged in the Thai language, with broadly constitutionalist interpretations of the monarchy in competition with reactionary accounts that assume unrestricted royal power. For example, against the proliferation of commentary on the king's royal prerogatives see Pramuan, , in a law press published a seemingly innocuous title, Exposition on the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand and Governing Regulations Regarding the King. In a preface that recounts law specific to the monarchy, Worajet demonstrates that the monarchy's ascension during the post era comes with greater control over its own affairs.
Previously, amendment to the Palace Law of Succession followed procedures relevant to any constitutional amendment, but in the , and constitutions amendment to the succession law is the sole prerogative of the palace. The king's speeches are largely palace affairs and are not directed or approved by the government.
Such limitation as proposed by Yut would certainly strip the king of an important source of legitimacy that comes from his now conventional right to chide governments in public, and to define and interpret situations as if above them. If the king's prerogative to speak remains intact, the impact has been dulled by the relatively widespread disillusion with the monarchy since the coup.
This was interpreted as an endorsement of the movement to overthrow the pro-Thaksin government of the time. Explicit reference to Thailand's wealthiest conglomerate, the Crown Property Bureau, can also be heard in conversation. The work of Porphant has been influential in opening up discussion on royal wealth. This broad willingness to speak openly about the monarchy contrasts with the adulation or enforced silence that prevailed a decade ago. The shift is best exemplified by the curious case of the brash and brave Thai historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul whose writings on Thai web-boards and in academic papers constantly trash any imposed code of self or socially-expected censorship in a quest for truth about the monarchy's historical and contemporary role.
Royalists, that is to say various state agencies, the military, the People's Alliance for Democracy, and the governing Democrat Party have responded to this fragmenting consensus by stoking fears of a movement to overthrow the monarchy and building up state and social surveillance, a topic explored by pseudonymous Han Krittian Chapter 8. From an average of five cases per year between and , the total number of cases tried between and jumped to see pp.
Volume 85 – No. 3
Streckfuss reports that a police source suggests that in some potential cases were being investigated. The monarchy does have a strong conservative and opportunistic social constituency and that constituency, now seeing the wall of the STV crumble, is groping for ways of patching it together before the debris gathers at their feet.
Fear mongering has become rife. Numerous books on an alleged movement to overthrow the monarchy have appeared in the last year. One book, running into multiple editions, features Thaksin dressed in royal regalia and claims that the republican movement is inspired by the overthrow of monarchies in France, Russia and, more recently, Nepal Kongbannathikan, Similar claims of republican intent are made on leaflets and banners.
For example, in the election, campaign leaflets were discreetly distributed saying that a vote for the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party was a threat to the monarchy. These were secretive, unsigned leaflets distributed in the north-east, probably by security forces.