Thongchai Winichakul, “Hyper-royalism: Its past Success and Present Predicament” TRENDS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA, no.7, Singapore: ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, 2016.
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Thailand’s Hyper-royalism: Its Past Success and Present Predicament
By Thongchai Winichakul
“I shall reign by dharma for the benefit and happiness of all Siamese people”.
— King Bhumibol’s First Pronouncement at his coronation on 5 May 1950
Thailand’s political crisis which began in the mid-2000s has involved every important institution in the country including the monarchy. But it is not simply the crisis of royal succession as some have argued (Marshall 2014). The succession problem itself might not have become an explosive issue had the real stake not involved the entire political establishment.
Fundamental to the conflict is tension between two structural forces. On the one hand, rural villagers and the urban lower middle class have, as a consequence of rural societal changes and the enhancement of electoral politics since the late 1980s, emerged as a political force favouring electoral democracy. On the other hand, not only has the current political system been unable to accommodate this emerging force, it resisted its demands. The obstinate regime is the “royalist-guided democracy” (or royal democracy for short), an ostensibly democratic polity but one which the electorate and elected authority do not have substantive power since true power remains in the hands of the monarchy. Its formal name, “the Democratic Regime with the Monarchy as the Head of the State”, is a revealing euphemism for a political system in which the formal parliamentary system is subsumed under the unelected and undemocratic power of the monarchy. But since royal democracy relies heavily on the charisma of the monarch, the coming succession is the trigger of the abovementioned fundamental conflict.
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