The Siamese Revolution's squandered promise: The Nation

Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha speaking at a forum on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Manila, on April 28, 2017.
Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha speaking at a forum on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Manila, on April 28, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on 29 June, the paper reflects on the 85th anniversary of the Siamese Revolution and hopes that democratic processes will improve in the nation.

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - On this day (June 28) 85 years ago, Phraya Manopakorn Nititada assumed his duties as the first leader of a Thai government under constitutional monarchy. It was the day after the Siamese Revolution of 1932.

Within four days of the abrupt shift from absolute monarchy, he was appointed president of the People's Party governing committee, a position tantamount to that of prime minister. He formally assumed the latter title when Thailand's first constitution was promulgated the following December.

Thailand has had 28 more prime ministers since then, General Prayut Chan-o-cha being the latest.

In those eight and a half decades, Thais have found various ways to select their prime minister. Some have been the leaders of political parties, some elected civilians and some elected former military officers. Others have been active military commanders who seized power through coups d'etat, and still others civilian technocrats appointed by the coup-makers.

Among those considered to have served the country best, non-elected prime ministers with military backgrounds have been regarded as decisive and patriotic.

We have also seen elected civilian premiers who were honest, highly principled and democratically minded. Among the worst, there have been military men remembered primarily as repressive dictators, and party men still not forgiven for the damage they caused through corruption and divisiveness.

Political parties and the military, which are among the handful of dominant forces influencing Thai politics, have taken turns leading successive governments since constitutional monarchy began 85 years ago. Both institutions have had their ups and downs. On their better days they earned the public's esteem. On their worst days they were viewed with contempt and suspicion.

In the public's mind, the military represents the armed forces in particular and the national bureaucracy in general, while politicians mainly serve the interests of their affiliated parties and party financiers.

Ordinary citizens who belong to neither of those groups discover they have no "umbrella" shielding their interests when those interests conflict with the ambitions of the people in power.

This is despite the military and political parties' reliance on citizen support to gain and maintain power. Political parties typically lay claim to a voter mandate to legitimise their reign, while the military insists it has the public's backing for unseating elected governments. Once they come to power, though, both the political parties and military tend to focus on their own interests and those of their immediate benefactors, who are rarely ordinary citizens.

The dominant political forces battle one another for the right to rule and formulate new laws and policies, while ordinary citizens, once they've voted, end up with little influence over the direction of those policies. Thailand has yet to see a form of government that is truly representative of the people's wishes, one that genuinely protects the interests of the electorate.

The drafters of the new constitution and legislation governing the conduct of political parties claim to have created a mechanism that should eventually force the parties to represent their supporters honestly and earnestly. Let us hope they're right, and that there'll be clear improvement in Thai politics and democracy by the time, a few years hence, we mark the centenary of the Siamese Revolution.

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