Thailand and "Sufficiency Royalism"

The philosophy of a “sufficiency economy” has been glorified exceedingly, particularly among Thailand’s royalists. Some consider the concept to be immunity against unbearable consumerism. Others use it to further eulogize the wisdom and astuteness of the royal institution. Still others abuse this same concept to undermine their political opponents, accusing them of being tainted by unfettered capitalism.

But what is happening in Thailand today, with the increasing number of lèse-majesté cases, points to the fact that the law is being used as a dangerous weapon in the elimination of political enemies. The lèse-majesté law, known popularly as Article 112, has emerged as a great obstacle to democratization and freedom of expression It has badly affected Thailand’s image on the international stage.

The hyper-royalists have exploited Article 112 in getting rid of those who have different political opinions, which as a result, has led to the diminution of love and respect for the royal institution among some non-royalists. The hyper-royalists are the ones who harm the monarchy.

I would like to introduce a new philosophy as an alternative, or indeed the only alternative, to be taken as part of maintaining the status of the monarchical institution so that it will continue to gain love and respect from all Thais. This philosophy would enable the royal institution to co-exist with the ongoing democratisation process, and at the same time to prevent it from serving as a hurdle to political reforms. I call this philosophy “sufficiency royalism.”

The hyper-royalists need to reconsider their tactics, role and position vis-à-vis the monarchy. Lately, these hyper-royalists have acted as though they are indeed members of the royal family themselves. They have arbitrarily defined the face of enemies of the monarchy and sought to hunt and punish them with the draconian lèse-majesté law. This mindset has shaped a certain behavior of the hyper-royalists that is perceived as over the top in safeguarding the monarchy. They have successfully alienated their own fellow countrymen, forcing those who might not previously have any opinion on the monarchy to possibly adopt an anti-monarchy attitude.

There are different kinds of behavior which could be considered histrionic and unreasonable. First, the hyper-royalists often accuse those who are campaigning for the reform of Article 112 of attempting to overthrow the monarchy, or lom chao, without accepting that Article 112 in itself is deeply troublesome and a major impediment to democracy.

Second, they continue to engage in propaganda designed to invent a certain persona of the monarchy which is supernatural and surreal. They are also behind the making of myths that surround the royal institution. And if some refuse to accept such myths as true, they could be punished severely by Article 112.

Third, the hyper-royalists have sought to close a space for freedom of expression while imposing others to believe in what they believe. Isn’t this the mentality of fascists? The love for the monarchy must be voluntary. No man should be imprisoned for not loving another human being. The hyper-royalists must learn to open their heart and recognise differences and diversities.

Lastly, they must not assume that Thailand is at the center of the universe. They must stop making absurd claims. For example, Thailand has its own system of thought. Or Thailand is unique, and its uniqueness is underpinned by the so-called Thainess. Or worse, foreigners will never be able to understand Thailand and they must not dare to disparage Thai uniqueness.

As evident, the hyper-royalists reacted unashamedly to the United Nations and other Western governments, including the United States, for expressing their concerns regarding human rights situation in Thailand. They have launched coordinated attacks against the website of the US consulate, threatened to boycott American products, condemned the United Nations for interfering the Thai affairs and for showing disrespect for the Thai monarch.

Such uncivilized reactions are disgraceful. It also attests that their much-publicized love for the monarchy has little meaning. It is just plastic. Thailand is not an island; it is a member of the global community and has to live with other countries. Why are we embarrassing ourselves? Isn’t Thailand a democratic country which places priority on promoting basic human rights?

The hyper-royalists must now give up their exploitation of the monarchy and their over-the-top manners as they defend their beloved monarchy. Sufficiency royalism should be practiced in order to permit those with different views of the monarchy to express themselves honestly without fear of punishment and retribution. Only by this way can Thai society move forward and reconciliation be fulfilled.

The hyper-royalists need to stop labelling others as anti-monarchists. They must also refrain from presenting themselves as the true representatives of Thainess. The concept of Thainess is in reality hollow and easily manipulated, just like other discourses. So far, Thainess is meant to be a measurement that brutally castigates nonconformists.

Sufficiency royalism is a philosophy that shall guarantee the survival of the monarchy no matter how much the world would change, today or in the future. For the hyper-royalists, there is a great danger in isolating others in society with your forced affection for the monarchy. This is because the more you play your game in the name of protecting the monarchy, they more you cause an irreparable damage to the institution.

(Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Follow him at www.facebook.com/pavinchachavalpongpun.)