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OVERDRIVE

The monarchy and the people depend on each other

The Thai monarchy is a revered institution that represents what Thailand is and has been for more than 700 years, since the Sukhothai era. It brings together Thai traditions and culture, and social, political and Buddhist beliefs.



Dr Sumet Jumsai, the well-known architect, once told me that he is a monarchist, not a royalist.

There is a big difference between these two words. A monarchist is a believer who has faith in the monarchy as a conceptual and structural system that embodies all the values of Thailand, or Suvarnabhumi, the Land of Gold. A royalist is one who is loyal to royalty. A monarchist embraces monarchy in a universal sense, whereas a royalist might approach the monarchy through individuals in a particular sense.

This has given rise to a widespread misconception that the Privy Council, of which former prime minister General Prem Tinsulanonda is president, is the monarchy. In fact, the Privy Council is only a functional agency that serves the monarchy. The Privy Council is not the monarchy. The Privy Council gives counsel to His Majesty the King, who will use his own judgement on whether to take or not to take that counsel.

Thaksin Shinawatra and his red-shirt supporters have been trying to link the Privy Council to the monarchy. They have been attacking General Prem as the mastermind of the 2006 coup and, by extension, giving the impression that His Majesty the King has been behind it all.

In Thaksin's latest interview in the Financial Times, he showed no restraint. He charged that the King had held an assembly of General Prem, General Surayud Chulanont and other Privy Council members and the military before approving the 2006 coup. This is far from the truth.

As a matter of fact, His Majesty did not personally approve the 2006 coup, neither did he approve the 1991 coup against the Chatichai government. But since the coup was a fait accompli, the King had to give his endorsement to keep the country moving, otherwise there would be a vacuum in the administration of the country. No government and no new legitimate government means a political void and a state of chaos.

His Majesty plays by the rules to keep the country from falling apart. Although he personally may not approve of certain legislation or coups, he has to give them his endorsement to keep the country moving. As he strictly plays by the rules, he is universally respected. So when there are no rules or unprecedented cases, he speaks out or gives his opinion. And when he speaks, the Thai people listen because they trust that his opinions are meant for the best of Thailand.

The King is at times called Prachao yu hua or Pho luang, or the "Royal Father". This term can be traced back to the Sukhothai era. Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng was a Sukhothai king. But his relationship with his subjects was like a father governing his children.

The Thais know deep in their heart that Pho luang would never mean anything bad for Thailand. Pho luang is selfless. He is not a divine king, a demi-god or devaraja (an Indian or Hindu concept) as Paul Handley's "The King Who Never Smiles" suggests, although most of the royal or religious ceremonies associated with the monarchy are influenced by Brahminism. But rather His Majesty is a Pho luang or Prachao phaen din in the tradition of Sukhothai's Pho Khun.

King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, who ruled like a father over his children, represents an ideal concept of Thai kingship.

As a Pho luang or Prachao phaen din, the King practices the 10 virtues of Kingship. Since he has been accumulating virtue from good deeds in past and present lives, he will be born again as a higher being. This is the reincarnation of the human life. The ultimate aim is to become an Enlightened One like the Lord Buddha, so that one can break away from the cycle of life and death. The devaraja concept of the monarch is wrong because a devajara is still subject to the cycle of life and death.

Unfortunately for Thailand, recent political upheavals have tried to destroy this unique feature of the Thai political system, in which the monarchy is an integral part. Thailand has the most unique political system in the world, with the monarchy as the ultimate symbol and stabiliser of last resort. But some quarters of Thai society are intent on destroying this system due to their ignorance and arrogance, and through their belief that liberal democracy and capitalism will bring stability and prosperity to the country.

The monarchy has been conveniently branded as belonging to the elite, including the military and the bureaucracy. One cannot categorise the monarchy as belonging to the same group as the military and the bureaucratic elite. The monarchy is above both. If the monarchy had banked its survival on the military and the bureaucracy, it would not have achieved the universal respect it has, or lasted until today.

The monarchy's survival depends on the popular support of the Thai people as a whole. The monarchy must be judged by its relationship with the majority of Thais.



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