24 June is when the kingdom celebrates what is considered in history as “88 years of Thailand’s democracy.”
But really, we’ve got history wrong.
If anything, it has been 88 years of military rule.
Since the 1932 revolution, Thailand has had 29 prime ministers.
Eleven were outright military dictators, whether for two days or nearly a decade. Then there’s a political system in which it doesn’t matter which political party wins the election; the military strongman is guaranteed to become prime minister. Then there are those interim prime ministers, appointed following a military coup.
Then there are the elected governments, in which the number one party-list candidate becomes prime ministers. However, the civilian government exits at the mercy of the military. If a civilian government doesn’t conform, it meets the fate of a military coup.
So when we say “88 years of Thailand’s democracy,” at best it’s an illusion, at worst it’s an outright lie.
Here’s a brief look at the evolution of democracy.
In England, the Magna Carta, or the Charter of Rights, came to be in 1215. That was 805 years ago. Through the ups and downs of history, there was the beheading of a God-anointed king, a military/parliamentary dictatorship, a revolution called “glorious,” plus everything else in between and since. England today is a constitutional monarchy.
The French Revolution started in 1789. It witnessed the beheading of a God-anointed king and the royal family, followed by the “reign of terror.” There was the return to absolutism, a few more revolutions, and a succession of republics. Today France is a democracy, without a monarchy.
In China, the belief system of the emperor as the “Son of Heaven” ended with the 1911 Revolution. Through the ups and downs of history, today, China is under the oligarchy of the communist party, practicing a capitalist economy.
In Japan, a couple of the atomic bombs and a pipe-smoking general from Little Rock, Arkansas, ended the old belief system, including the concept of the God-emperor. Today, it’s a constitutional monarchy.
Western powers colonized the kingdoms of Southeast Asia, tearing down the old belief system of divine kingship. Then through the ups and downs of history, today, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar are single-party states.
From the United States to Mother Russia, and to every country in the world; there’s a commonality in political history that leads to change:
Destructive disruption. The tearing down of the old belief system to create change. Specific to the context of this article is the belief that rather than being ruled by divine kingship, humanity ought to govern itself.
But change comes with the price of great destruction of lives.
Thailand has not suffered from destructive disruption.
There has never been a destructive disruption from within that tore down the old belief system. There also has never been a destructive disruption from outsiders. Thailand was never colonized by western powers, unlike our neighbors. The kingdom was not “forced” to change, like Japan and elsewhere.
Hence, the old belief system is very much intact.
Does that mean Thailand needs to experience a destruction disruption to achieve democracy? The answer is no.
Word history is riddled with destructive disruption. Learn from it. Don’t repeat it.
The world is full of lessons on how democracy came to be; the good, the bad and the ugly of it all. To understand the present and build the future, we must first learn from the past. Not just from world history, but also Thai history.
However, anyone who has an even slightest familiarity with the Thai education system knows, the teaching of history in our country is anywhere from inadequate to outright lies.
Case in point. Here is an excerpt from the textbook, “History of the Thai Nation,” published by the Ministry of Culture’s Fine Arts Department
“Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as Prime Minister has carried out a policy of reforming the country, reforming politics to be truly a democracy, eliminating corruption and using moral principles to lead the country to be truly a democracy.”
This example is just one of the many lies taught in Thailand. Even when we say “88 years of Thailand’s democracy,” we are lying to ourselves.
We can’t understand the present through the lens of past lies or build tomorrow through the illusion of today. It’s delusional.
Since 1932, Thailand has been in a cycle of military rule; this is because, as a nation, we fail to understand history, and hence, we keep repeating past mistakes. Therefore, 24 June is not a celebration of democracy. It’s a reminder of how democracy is so readily betrayed.
Thailand may one day become a constitutional monarchy with the national values of right, liberty, and equality. But to get there, the first step is an honest education of history.
So that we may manage the transition of the old belief system into the new belief system, which will one day in the future become old, then we would need another transition; such is the circle of life.
Education. Evolution. Not destruction.
After all, other than destructive destruction, there is a thing called the Age of Enlightenment that’s integral to the evolution of human civilization.