Who is the owner of Thailand? Its king or people?

 The protest of Thai youths against the lack of political freedom and oppression is not unique to the experience of many Asian countries. But the fact that Thailand is speaking out against King Maha Vajiralongkorn is surprising. 

The king was considered to be above criticism in the country. He is still the one who is the most powerful man. The royal family is something ‘sacred’ above mistakes there. The king is like the shadow of the Lord.

But a group of teenagers took to the streets to liberate the country from that belief. The country has been questioned about the infinite desire for the royal family's power, its unquenchable lust for wealth, and the tradition of giving the unelected rulers a break. This is a major aspect of Thailand's ongoing movement. 

Such incidents challenging the ‘authority’ of the ages are rare in the contemporary history of Asia. It may be compared to the blacks' rise against the symbols of slavery in North America. But the movement is also raising fears of bloodshed.


Today's 'Thai Spring' is the result of long efforts by dissidents

Excluding the roots of the past, the history of the current Thai monarchy is about two and a half hundred years old. For almost 90 years, the king has no executive power. But officially he is the 'head of state', the 'head of the armed forces' and the 'guardian of religion'. The king and his followers also explain the 'power' of these positions. 

Article 112 of the country's Criminal Procedure Code provides for 15 years' imprisonment for "any kind" of criticism of the dynasty. As a result, this family has become the owner of huge power without accountability.

Only great power makes a huge bad precedent. To turn a blind eye to all this, everyone was taught unconditional allegiance to the king from childhood. Even so, owning one is still beyond the reach of the average person. Prison-persecution against such dissidents is going on regularly.

 But dissent could not be completely eradicated. That silent effort has brought Thailand to the brink of today's political crisis. Challenging the monarchy is a recent political event there but at the same time, it is the result of a long intellectual and risky effort.

Elected leaders are not allowed to survive

To international political commentators, Thailand is a country of military rulers. Some even call it the country of drafting the constitution. During the constitutional monarchy, there have been 13 coups since 1932. 9 of them are failed. In 2020, probably, the country is moving towards another round of coup.

The history of making new constitutions is intertwined with the history of military rule at every turn. In the last nine decades, the country has written a constitution every four years on average. The last one was three years ago.

There, unelected people can be ascended to power by strangling the electoral culture, mainly in collusion with the royal family, in the name of 'maintaining stability'. In this way, the historical alliance of the royal family with a power-hungry military-civilian bureaucracy worked in Thailand.

 The king's family supported such a regime for their benefit. They do not want to allow democratic political institutions to develop.

To this end, the dynasty has always sidelined some politicians and military officials. Such ‘politicians’ and ‘officials’ are pre-identified and developed. Thus, in 2006, the government of Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted. Yingluck Shinawatra was overthrown in 2014. The strength of these two was the support of the impoverished people of the country.

 It was the first time that an elected civilian government in Thailand has served under Thaksin. But Thaksin and Yingluck could not satisfy the aristocracy surrounding the royal family. As a result, they had to go.

Suppression of elected representatives thus began with the first transparent election in the country's history. Despite winning a majority in the two elections of 1973 and 1978, popular leader Seni Pramoj had to leave politics. But he was a member of the royal family by birth. 

The rumours of military rule in the country began as soon as the people's sovereignty cast a shadow over the autonomy of the royal family. Following this process, at last, General Prayut Chan-o-cha took power in 2014. In a controversial process, the "general" is now trying to suppress the democratic movement by imposing a state of emergency.

The new general Narongpan is backing the king and Prayut. At the king's discretion, he recently became the chief of the armed forces. In his first speech, he pledged to "protect the monarchy". 

This is how the tradition of 'authority' and 'power' continues in Thailand. The current movement seeks to change that continuity.

The economic downturn of the Corona period provoked the movement

After General Prayut Chan-ocha came to power in 2014, he allocated only 540 million for filmmaking, music competitions, etc. to glorify the monarchy. This year the budget has increased a lot more.

 To teach the people the right idea about the monarchy, money is poured in the name of 'education program' in return for the king's help behind the unelected rulers.

Maha Vajiralongkorn was the tenth king of the Chakri dynasty. His father Bhumibol Adulyadej was king for about 60 years. They are one of the richest royal families in the world. Their business and wealth are growing at a rapid pace.

 They have everything from banks to cement factories. There is an organization called the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) to manage these assets. A section of the people is angry that the assets, investments and business of this bureau are not covered by the tax system. 

Although these resources are private to the king, the salaries and allowances of those engaged in the management of his family have to be paid from the taxes of the people. The royal family spends 150 million to 200 million USD in a year.

Since it is illegal to question the royal family, the CPB's work is also above transparency and accountability. As very conservative, Vajiralongkorn has assets worth 40 billion. Usually, this king stays in a special hotel in Germany for a long time of the year.

 He also wrote in the constitution in 2016 so that no one in the country has to appoint a 'regent' with the temporary responsibility of his power while he is there. 

This is how Thailand is ruled by Germany at certain times of the year. German minister of foreign affairs, Heiko Maas, himself warned Vajiralongkorn on October 8 in a statement for "standing on German soil and ruling Thailand."

However, the military is on the side of Vajiralongkorn to establish this remote control regime. Again, he did not prevent Prayut Chan-Ocha from becoming General to Prime Minister. For good reason, the fuel for his luxurious lifestyle in Germany is also flowing unhindered from the national budget. 

But in Corona, when the economic downturn is going on across the country, and unemployment is rising, taxpayers are objecting to spending money in this way. The bank was asked by protesters: ‘Does the country belong to the royal family? Or the whole crowd?

Why the United States and Europe are next to the Thai king 

What is happening for decades in Thailand, the United States and the European Union would have caused a stir if it would happen in Venezuela, Iran, Cuba or other such countries. But in the last 90 years, that 13 coups have gone smoothly in Thailand, democratic values ​​in the West have suffered little. 

This is because of the historical tradition of US military relations with Thailand. The United States has not objected to Thailand's recent re-enactment of a new constitution, with military powers and a monarchy. Europe has not stopped the much-discussed "free trade dialogue" with Thailand.

Thailand was once the centre of many open and secret US activities in Asia against communist Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and the People's Republic of China. The United States is now seeking to renew that relationship against China. 

The U-Tapao airport in Thailand is also in special need from time to time for the United States. For these reasons, the United States has not stopped the "Cobra Gold" military exercise between the two countries, which began in 1972, despite the recent two military coups. But the Thai elite now sees China as a more convenient ally than the United States to run their old-fashioned regime. 

It is the real background of why the Thai democratic movement is gaining some sympathy in the Western media. While this may not sound like Washington's vocal solidarity for Hong Kong's youth, the United States has been looking for an alternative to Bangkok in the region as questions are raising about the loyalty of the Thai elite.

But teenagers who risk their lives on the streets of Bangkok pay little heed to these geopolitical calculations. They know victory is not imminent. They are also familiar with the experience of Hong Kong. But they have been able to raise a long wave of dissent.

Currently, Facebook-Twitter is the only ballot paper. Using these means, young people are gathering here and there in Bangkok. Those who do not have a well-known 'leader'. They are not a traditional 'political party' either. But the seeds of anti-authoritarian values ​​are being sown.

The long black shadow of the past

The Thai movement began with a call for transparent elections and a change in the constitution. The demand for power reform of the monarchy was added later. Many in the country feel that the third demand has made it difficult to get the first two.

It is easily understood that it is difficult for the current Thai government to curtail the power of the king as demanded by the protesters. Maha Vajiralongkorn would like to retain the present ultimate authority at any cost. If necessary, the armed forces will be used ruthlessly. He is the legal 'ruler' of the entire armed forces.

There are at least two army units under his direct supervision. He took personal control of the two units through a decree in October last year. If the situation worsens, he may want to use them against the young men who have been left out of his dynasty's two-and-a-half-century history of domination.

But something like that means the end of the current pseudo-civilian rule and the departure of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha. At the same time, there has been a fear of "genocide in Bangkok" like the one induced in October 1976.

Those who know the country's old history must remember that the weapons of war were handed over to the police at that time. They were deployed to stop the protests of the students of Thammasat University who were protesting against the return of the exiled dictator Thanom Kittikachorn.

The generals were overjoyed at the killing of hundreds of students and workers by the pro-Vietnamese communists. That did not happen without the awareness of the royal family. 

Various paramilitary forces were deployed around the university in plain clothes that day to detect the survivors of the killings. Most of them were Thai soldiers hired by the United States in the anti-communist wars in Vietnam and Laos. Hundreds of students and youths were detained in their hands that day. Many of them were hanged from trees or beaten to death.

This barbarism was being justified by talking about saving the monarchy, religion and the country. The next day, a new military coup came to power in the country and Maha Vajiralongkorn's father, King Bhumibol's favourite Admiral Sangad Chaloryu, came to power. 

The last two sentences of the Admiral's ascension to power (titled 'New Leader in Thailand') published by the New York Times on October 7, 1986, were particularly amusing: His (Sangad’s) political philosophy is not clear, but it is assumed that he is a sympathetic moderate towards the right-wing. Western diplomats in Bangkok consider him a supporter of the United States."

Thailand is going through another October like that. On the 44th anniversary of the Thammasat genocide, activists have been gathering on the streets of Bangkok for almost day, ignoring fears. The message of these scenes is clear: the aspirations for democracy are hard to defeat.

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