Emboldened by Marvel’s latest superhero movie “Avengers: Endgame”, some Thais are calling for the democracy struggle in Thailand to also reach its climax.
While I do not want to be a killjoy, I think the struggle for democracy, freedom and equality will most likely be never ending. There may be no such endgame battle.
Think of the 1932 revolt which ended the absolute monarchy. Some back then might have thought that moment would secure freedom, democracy and equality. Yet the installation of a constitutional monarchy proved to be just the beginning.
Since then the stature of the monarchy has been mostly on the rise. In 2019, it is probably at a level that would not have been easily conceivable for those who lived in the immediate aftermath of the 1932 revolt – when public criticism against the monarchy in the press was normal. Today, as King Vajiralongkorn’s three-day coronation begins, the Thai press has been mindful not to allow even an iota of space for critical remarks or assessments. Being overtly royalist has even become fashionable in many circles, while those holding differing views are either in exile, jail or express themselves only in private or on social media.
Even our paper, Khaosod English decided to issue a note on Facebook yesterday saying “any negative comments about the monarchy will be removed” to minimise the risk of charges under the lese majeste law. Many other Thai media outlets have internalized self-censorship on the monarchy to the point where many journalists do not think twice about doing so, and rarely stop to consider the consequences of that self-censorship.
It has been a long struggle for democracy. The 1973 uprising ousted military dictators yet right-wing forces regrouped three years later on October 6 1976 and crushed pro-democracy forces in a massacre that ricocheted Thailand back to deeper authoritarianism. Then there was the May 1992 uprising which eventually led to the 1997 “People’s Constitution” that stipulated that the prime minister must be a member of parliament.
Even this writer thought for some years that after 11 military coups, military intervention was finally consigned to history. How wrong we were. There was another coup in 2006 and the 1997 Constitution was nullified. Then yet another coup in 2014. Now, the March 24 elections have brought anything but political certainty.
As I type these words, the latest political rumor is that an outsider, not even junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, may be appointed as prime minister of a “unity” government. Is there truly such a thing as the End of History or is the struggle for a better and more equitable society a never ending process? With each generation comes different ideals for governance and society, renewing the struggle.
Today, as the nation celebrates the coronation, some want to see the monarchy play a greater role in Thai society. Others want a strictly symbolic monarchy. Some want military dictatorship to stay on as they view dictators like Prayuth as benign, if not the lesser of many evils. Others want to see young leaders like Future Forward Party’s Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit take the helm. And elections are not the only way to settle the dispute for some.
In the end, what one generation perceives as the endgame struggle may just be the beginning of the fight for another generation.