The 90th anniversary of June 24, 1932 revolt, which ended absolute monarchy, was only celebrated by those who believe Thailand has yet to achieve genuine democracy and aspire for more freedom and rights.
Conspicuously absent were the government, including Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, and royalist conservatives who did not observe the day and probably would rather forget that June 24, which falls on Friday this year, was not just arguably the most important day in modern Thai political history once a national day and a public holiday celebrated from 1938 to 1960.
The year 1960 was when the then military dictator Sarit Thanarat ended the designation of June 24 as Thai National Day.
For royalists who wish to see the monarchy institution play a greater role in Thai society, to see the military continue to act as the state within a state, to limit the powers of politicians and the electorate whom they distrust, June 24, 1932 was a day of infamy when some Thais, led by Pridi Banomyong, decided seized power from King Rama VII, ended absolute monarchy and tried to prematurely introduce constitutional democracy.
This explains why some Thais are very indifferent to June 24. It reflects a lack of genuine social contract as well as people dreaming a different dream as to what Thailand should be. This also explains the vicious cycle of an elected government overthrown by a military coup and replaced by a military regime before yet another election and yet another coup.
What is very telling is thus not just those who celebrated the event on Friday, but those who were conspicuously absent and made no mention about the importance of the day. Ninety years on, Thailand is still deeply divided and we do not have a common dream as some prefer a more anachronistic version of Thailand they learned from school textbooks, which fed mostly one-sided history about the virtue of the ruling class.
How to negotiate the different dreams is arguably one of the most important challenges facing Thai society nine decades on and it will likely take at least a few more decades, if not longer, before the society can finally settle for a genuine social contract and not a constitution in which the average shelf life is shorter than that of a refrigerator. (The current junta-sponsored charter is Thailand’s 20th. It means the shelf life of an average Thai “constitution” is 4.5 years. My latest fridge has been around for a longer period of time now.)
The fact that we dream a different dream means there are plenty of Thais who support the continued role of the army as a state within a state, ready to call them out again to stage a coup if an elected government is not to their political preference, as more recently seen in 2006 and 2014 coups.
Some countries settled their differences through a bloody revolt. Think of France or the United States and consider how many had died before they arrived at a lasting social contract. I am not blood thirsty, and if possible, prefer a peaceful if not less violent way to achieve that goal in the future.
That requires citizens willing to be empathetic to those who vehemently disagree with them politically. That requires a moderation and restraint to not commit knee jerk reactions that led to many calls for coup in the past nine decades. (We had 13 “successful” coups in 90 years, so that’s an average of one military coup every six years.)
That required a sincere deliberation about the role of the monarchy in the 21st century that unfortunately cannot be done unless people and the press have genuine freedom to deliberate the matter. And that is why the silence regarding June 24 by many Thais does not bode well and suggests that we do not share a common nation-building project going forward.