Spirit of 1932 Revolution still the guiding light in Thai quest for true democracy
The overwhelming victory of Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt in the recent gubernatorial election has come as a breath of fresh air on the national political landscape, as voters are now expecting to elect better-quality politicians through ballot power.
“Politics is no longer frightening, but it’s about hope…we create hope. I will be the governor of hope,” Chadchart said at a seminar at Thammasat University’s Pridi Banomyong International College (PBIC) on June 24 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the 1932 Revolution.
The revolution 90 years ago gave birth to democracy in Thailand.
“I’m here [as Bangkok governor] because of democracy. A politician in the modern democratic era should offer substantive policies and solutions, rather than create fear, hate, and conflict,” he said.
The governor, who secured a record 1.38 million votes in the May 22 election, said politicians from now on have to change their mindset, policymaking process, political campaign, and ways to recruit supporters. New technology and social media really have influence over new-generation voters. Politicians need a variety of policies with details to reach out to every niche, he said.
Chadchart’s victory is regarded as a new dimension in Thai politics since power has been controlled by a bunch of conservative authoritarians following a coup in 2014 staged by General Prayut Chan-o-cha. The military-backed regime picked police and military officers to occupy many key positions in political entities, including the governor of the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority, which was previously held by retired police officer Aswin Kwanmuang since 2016.
Continuing the 1932 Revolution
Various groups organized activities and events on June 24 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the revolution which turned the country from absolute to constitutional monarchy. While academics and politicians discussed the future of Thai democracy at Thammasat’s Tha Prachan campus, youthful groups and activists gathered at Lan Khon Muang Townsquare, calling for the restoration of the revolutionary spirit, reform of the monarchy, abolish the lese majeste law, as well as make June 24 the National Day.
In 1960, Thailand’s National Day was changed to coincide with King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday on December 5. The two national days represent different ideologies: June 24 is nationalist and December 5 is royalist.
Thammasat University student activist Parit Chiwarak told Thai PBS World earlier that students and political activists had grouped together under the name of People’s Party 2020 a couple of years ago to carry on the revolutionary spirit. Their objective was to remove the gulf between Thai citizens and the established elite.
“One of the six principles laid out by the 1932 People’s Party is equality, which has never been achieved,” he said.
Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, a student activist also from Thammasat, said in a phone interview that she and her associates continued to demand reforms to the monarchy, despite being prosecuted for lese majeste under Article 112 of the Penal Code.
Panusaya, better known as Rung, posted a question to Chadchart recently about his stance on Article 112. She wants political parties to commit to monarchy reform and bring the crown operations within the constitutional framework. At least they should push ahead with the abolition of Article 112 first, to enable free discussion without fear in the country about the role of the monarchy, she said.
A former leader of the red shirts, Nattawut Saikua, in a talk show hosted by another organization — the Pridi Banomyong Institute — at Thammasat on the same occasion, said the people’s movement which fought for democracy before and after the 1932 Revolution shared the same spirit — to have equality and democracy.
“I do believe that such a fighting spirit has been transferred from generation to generation,” he said, and added that the red shirts admired and expressed their gratitude to both People’s Parties, in 1932 and 2020.
At the same forum, Puangthong Pawakapan, a lecturer from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, called for the Thai government to grant jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court to investigate the bloody crackdown against the red-shirt protesters in 2010, as national judicial branches had failed to bring justice to those who had sacrificed in the struggle for democracy.
Senior social critic Sulak Sivaraksa told the seminar at Thammasat’s PBIC that a group of military officers and civil servants, who called themselves People’s Party 90 years ago, wanted Thailand to have constitutional monarchy, which then was not equivalent to democracy.
It was a similar concept as the British monarchy, where the division of role between the head of state and of the government is clear. “The crown is responsible for dignity while the government takes care of efficiency,” he said.
There were differences and disputes within the 1932 People’s Party. Many of them led by senior statesman Pridi Banomyong wanted to keep the monarchy under the constitution. Some of them, such as former prime minister Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram, undermined the role of the crown, he said.
Speaking at the PBIC, Move Forward Party secretary-general Chaitawat Tulathon said political struggle these days is like the time nine decades ago when the people called for equality and asserted their right as the owners of the country.
“The longer we are from 1932, the closer we are,” he said, implying that the political agendas championed by his party and other groups of people are similar to those of the 1932 Revolution.
The 1932 Revolution is the cornerstone of democracy: that the nation belongs to the people, not the establishment elite. Military coups in 2006 and 2014 have enhanced the role and power of the traditional elite and diminished those of political parties and Parliament, he said.
Pheu Thai Party’s Chaturon Chaisang said the military coup and the government under Prayut have done everything to undermine democracy and weaken political parties. It is very easy for the authorities, sometimes irrationally, to dissolve a political party, he said at the forum at Pridi Banomyong Institute on June 24.
A seasoned politician, Chaturon has been at the receiving end and three of the parties he belonged to — Thai Rak Thai, People’s Power and Thai Raksa Chart — have all been dissolved in the last 15 years.
The 1932 provisional charter issued by the People’s Party to set guidelines for politics simply mentioned the clear roles and certain powers of the monarchy, executive branch, legislative body, and the judiciary, he said.
The 2017 Constitution is very complex but is just aimed at restricting the roles of political parties and elected politicians, he said. Constitutional organs and independent organizations, such as the Constitutional Court and even the Courts of Justice, are part of the authoritarian regime, he said.
“Our democracy today is less than half, it’s only a 25 percent democracy,” Chaturon said.
More rights and freedom
Meanwhile, Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said that during the 90 years after the Siamese Revolution, although democracy in Thailand has had its ups and downs, there had also been some progress.
“People now have more rights and freedom than before the revolution,” Yuthaporn told Thai PBS World.
The analyst pointed to the writing of the 1997 Constitution as a result of the people’s demand for a democratic charter.
The 1997 Constitution was the first charter to be drafted by a popularly elected Constitutional Drafting Assembly, hence it was known as the “People’s Constitution”.
However, the analyst admitted that democracy in Thailand needs more consolidation.
“The right for election is still inconsistent as the powers that be have made attempts to retain their power,” said Yuthaporn. “That’s why we have witnessed 13 coups after the revolution.”
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk