February 27, 2008
Thai Style Democracy and Democracy with the King as Head of State
Thai Style Democracy and the King as Head of State
In these excerpts from Democracy and National Identity in Thailand (Routledge 2003; revised edition NIAS 2007) I look at Thai style democracy and the ideology of democracy with the king as head of state. I claim that these are distinct ideas and reflect changing circumstances. In subsequent chapters I go on to look at how these ideas work their way through liberal and communitarian movements from the 1970-2000s. Here however, the three excerpts look at:
Thai style democracy in its orginal formulation
Neo-Thai style democracy during Prem
The formation of the ideology of democracy with the king as head of state in the 1970s-1980.
These ideas continue to influence Thai politics.
Citations are in the original
From Chapter 3.
Before the doctrine
From constitutional democracy to Thai-style democracy:
When Sarit came to power in the late 1950s, in line with the ideological recovery of the monarchy pushed for by royalists he rehabilitated the monarchy, but dumped their apparent liberal aspirations. Few protested. Sarit’s assumed purpose in doing this was to use the monarchy as part of a strategy to provide the regime with traditional legitimacy. As described by Thak Chaloemtiarana, Sarit promoted the idea that democratic rule did not require elections, and principally involved government in the people’s interest. Questions of institutional form were relegated to matters of historical and cultural specificity. The focus was on order and development. We might see the Saritian formulation on democracy as a passing attempt to end elite conflict, buckle down on the growth of working-class and intellectual dissidence in the 1950s, and also to initiate an ideological catharsis, a purging of the Western liberalism that had informed constitutional governance in the post-1932 era (excluding the war years). In terms of the resurgence of monarchical mythology, this may have been partly motivated by Sarit’s own attempt to chew fat from the substantial bone of that institution’s charisma (barami), by projecting himself in the image of a grand fatherly figure (pho khun). However, as Thak notes, it would be wrong to see this as merely a retrogressive ideological step, for in harnessing royalist themes and rearticulating democracy in authoritarian terms, Sarit was seeking a more stable path to modernization.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, then, notions of Thai-style democracy (prachathipatai baep thai) emerged as a basic component of Thai military and bureaucratic ideology. Under Sarit a deliberate shift away from a ‘Western’ ideology of democratic government occurred, making redundant the use of the citizens’ manuals. Sarit’s international spokesperson, Thanet Khoman, explained:
the fundamental cause of our political instability in the past lies in the sudden transplantation of alien institutions on to our soil without careful preparation, and if we look at our national history, we can very well see that this country works better and prospers under an authority, not a tyrannical authority, but a unifying authority.
It was with this thinking in mind that Sarit’s government, having overthrown an elected government in 1958, announced:
The Revolutionary Council wishes to make the country a democracy…[which]…would be appropriate to the special characteristics and realities of the Thai. It will build a democracy, a Thai way of democracy.
In line with this thinking, parliament was abolished and an appointed assembly came into being. Despite Sarit’s death in 1963, his successors continued to describe the regime as working within the confines of Thai-style democracy. The book Thai-style Democracy and Ideas about the Constitution, containing radio broadcast transcripts, may be considered representative of this stream of thought.
While pre-Sarit [democracy] manuals had described democracy in terms familiar to the structure of Western democracies, these broadcasts reflect the transformation of political thinking associated with the Saritian regime. The broadcasts were essentially an attempt to cohere the legacy of Sarit. In the opening broadcast listeners are informed of the need for the new constitution, then being drafted, to be appropriate to Thailand: ‘The constitution that we need must be a democratic one and one that is appropriate to the condition of the Thai people.’ The broadcaster goes on to attack intellectuals who think democracy must have English or American characteristics. Attacking an emphasis on the institutional forms of democracy, it is argued that ‘Thailand at this moment does not have elections and no permanent constitution, but we are a democracy’. This claim is justified by arguing that a system that maintains the people’s interests and responds to their needs and which is able to ‘gather and use the people’s opinions’ is the true essence of ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’. Depending on the circumstances, it is said, there are many forms that can fit this essential meaning of democracy. Drawing on royalist discourse, significant claims are made for the Thai past that includes identifying the king’s abidance by the ten virtues as an implicit social contract to serve the people. Readers are also informed that King Prachatipok (1923–35) had always intended to grant a constitution, but the premature actions of the People’s Party overtook him. However, the text goes on to bemoan that this promising start to democracy was wasted for two reasons. First, Pridi’s ‘ultra-left’ economic plans generated great conflict. Second, because some leaders of the People’s Party had been educated in Western Europe they tried to use a Western constitution which did not match Thai realities.
Interestingly, the common argument that the difficulty of establishing democracy in Thailand lies in low levels of education is rejected. Thais are seen as having great democratic potential because ‘their generosity and love of freedom coupled with Buddhist training in disposition [obrombom nisai nai praphutsatsana]…becomes a sure basis for democracy’.
Furthermore, the broadcasts note that the Revolutionary Council proclaimed as one of its tasks building a Thai-style democracy, an important element of which would be the reform of relationship between parliament and the Cabinet, following Charles de Gaulle’s reforms in France. Strangely, then, this exposition of Thai-style democracy identifies a continuity with Gaullist practice; that is, a Western referent underlies and justifies the ‘unique’ nature of Thai democracy. In later broadcasts Thai-style democracy is seen as part of a legitimate international trend in underdeveloped countries which reject excessive parliamentary democracy and place restrictions on political parties. The rationale for strong executive rule and limits on freedoms and rights in countries with fragile social and economic roots proceeds:
if we allow unlimited political struggle it will become a struggle without order and discipline [mai mi rabiapwinai], and when anarchy [anathipatai] emerges it will present dictators with an opportunity to seize power.
Thus, for the sake of political stability, the parliamentary system is disavowed, although with qualifications:
it is not yet possible to use parliamentary democracy or Western European democracy. In the future, once the country has developed and has economic and social stability, it is possible that parliamentary democracy be used; the evolution of world democracy has been thus.
The propagation of Thai-style democracy was an attempt to end perennial questions of political legitimacy by tapping into traditional rationalities of rule, but which left open the road to the development of a democratic people, once economic questions had been addressed and a middle class had come into being.
By suppressing the institutional elements of ‘Western’ democracy and then salvaging Thainess as a resource for a distinctive form of democracy facilitative of political stability and economic growth, Sarit’s regime was in a position to bring to centre-stage the discourse of development as its source of legitimacy. Economic development and its prerequisites were elevated as regime requirements and outcomes.
Sarit’s suppression of elements of liberal democracy had its ideological antecedents not simply in royalist myth but also in the notion of ‘public opinion’ deployed by Phibun. As Thailand shifted to a new consolidated state form—emergent in its relationship with the US—which brought security to the state and a degree of market openness to the economy, the tensions of Thai-style democracy as a basis for government were soon to be felt. Within a few short years the regime would begin embracing political developmental notions of democracy and fusing them with elements of Thai-style democracy. The shift back to the requirement for rational citizens, not dependent subjects of benevolent regimes that Thai-style democracy implied, would be gradual and contradictory, but it formed the only basis on which the modern state of Thailand was able to discursively interact with and mobilize its subjects as active participants.
From Chapter 5
Delayed liberalism, the general will
The doctrine entrenched
Freedom with chains: military responses to communism and parliamentary democracy
By the late 1970s and early 1980s the military began to respond creatively to both communist insurgency and the rise of parliamentary democracy. In response to the increasing liberalization of the 1980s, military leaders asserted the role of the military as guiding Thailand towards a democracy answerable to people’s economic, social and political needs. Throughout the 1980s the idea of military leadership in the political affairs of the nation was a potent one, influencing also LAD’s democratic practice. Essentially, the military argued that the only effective response to communism was the establishment of a democracy. They envisaged not a capitalist democracy—and indeed they were critical of Thai political parties as being the embodiment of this—but rather what might be called a neo-Thai-style democracy.
Chalermkiat Phiu-nuan, in a scholarly study on the general approach to democracy taken by military democrats, provides an insightful analysis. Chalermkiat concludes, unsurprisingly, that Thai-style democracy discourse is an attempt to create political legitimacy for the military by the harnessing of tradition. What makes his argument compelling is the similarities he notes between Thai-style democracy and the cosmological worldview laid down in the fourteenth-century Thai Buddhist tract The Three Worlds Cosmology of Phra Ruang. This theme is also explored by Peter Jackson, who argues for the relevance of this work in contemporary Thai Buddhist discourse. The Three Worlds, according to Jackson, presents ‘a hierarchical view of the cosmic order which provided a model for the socio-political hierarchy of medieval ‘Thai society’. In this model, just as gods and deities were hierarchically ordered in the heavens because of their relative merit, so too, on earth, were humans. Hierarchy was divinely sanctioned. For Chalermkiat, the significant point is that monarchical rule, in The Three Worlds, was seen as bringing order to this hierarchicized, but chaotic karmic whole; it is this theme, he argues, that entirely informs Thai-style democracy discourse. For Chalermkiat, the nationalism of Thai democratic discourse, the inculcation of Thainess as a series of moral values conducive to social stability, and the construction of reverence around the monarchy, are all part of the religious belief in the reciprocity of individuals and their circumstances. In Buddhist mythology, a powerful, charismatic leader forebodes well for each individual’s karmic wellbeing. The stability and wellbeing of the social order was seen as an outcome of the great merit of the king. It is as if in modern times, Chalermkiat suggests, this sacred function has shifted from the monarch to the nation itself which, in statist discourse, is identified with the state. The state now assumes the function of its people’s spiritual and material well-being. In this worldview, Chalermkiat notes, politics is more than just a game of interests—the mundane regulations of the liberal political market; politics, as ownership of the state, is a way of reaching the sacred which, in the contemporary period, is translated as the wellbeing of the nation-state and its security. This sacredness is embodied in concrete rituals of nationalism which give this sacredness tangible meaning. Officially, all military actions, he suggests, are publicly related to the sacred mission of ensuring the wellbeing of the realm: the foundation of a good state for the military must be security. On this, he notes that the conflation of state and nation leads to greater value being given to nation-state security over people and their own rights and freedoms. The state becomes an end in itself: a ‘security state’.
In this frame, military intellectuals argue that a democracy appropriate to Thai circumstances will benefit the wellbeing of the nation. Thai-style democracy, then, for Chalermkiat, provides a rationale for the state (its military-bureaucratic aspect); it serves the function of connecting the discourse of security with the necessary political structures of an illiberal democracy seemingly appropriate to the people and their culture. Its unconscious cosmological structure is that which gives it cultural and historical continuity. Sections of the military would mobilize this cosmological structure in order to combat communism, and to counteract the emergence of parliamentary democracy. In what follows below, we look at the manner in which the military sought to emerge as leaders of a national democracy in the 1980s.
Part of the military’s response to the civil war with the CPT was also to publicly recognize the genuine nature of the insurgency. While previously communists had been characterized as ‘un-Thai’ and as having only external support, it was now recognized that they gained support because of economic, social and political injustices. Asa Meksawan, a state official, summed up the new thinking somewhat ineloquently: ‘I think in the struggle against communists we should not think of killing them, because they are also Thai, rather let them come back and be Thai people.’ In their joint study, Chai-Anan Samudavanija, Kusama Snitwongse and Suchit Bunbongkarn argue that the failure to win militarily against the CPT led to the formation of a political strategy to defeat communism, among a grouping known as the ‘Democratic Soldiers’. This grouping was centred around the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC—the anti-communist military intelligence unit) and under the influence of Prasert Sapsunthun, an ex-member of the CPT who had been an influential statist intellectual during the 1960s and had been active within Thai psychological warfare and counter-insurgency circles. Disillusioned with military counter-insurgency, the Democratic Soldiers had been anonymously publishing a series of declarations for some time before the Prem government took up their approach of waging a political struggle against communism
In one announcement, the Democratic Soldiers attacked the constitutionalism of all previous regimes as pointless: ‘If we wish to have a democratic regime we must create democracy and then a democratic constitution can follow.’ They argued that cooperation between the military and the people in developing the economic and social systems would provide the basis of democracy. In April 1980, when the Prem government announced its new strategy to fight communism, tensions heightened in the conflicted Thai establishment; the strategy pointed to a long-term expansionary role for the military in economic, social and political development at a time when liberal forces were seeking a containment of the military.
In Order 66/1980 (66/2523) the government stated its determination to protect the three pillars and ‘the democratic form of government with the king as head of state’. By using political means to defeat communism, the order stated that it would be possible to preserve Thai national identity, uphold the principle of seeking just and peaceful resolutions to economic and political problems, and to ‘inculcate all Thais to uphold the above ideology, especially regarding the sacrifice of private interest for the common interest’. The authors argued that a political offensive was necessary in order to defeat the communists; a political offensive was defined as ‘any action that results in the people recognizing that this land is theirs to protect and preserve’.
In a further announcement in March 1981, a ‘political offensive’ is defined as ‘destroying or eliminating military or political conditions which benefit the CPT’. Moreover, a political offensive involved
destroying dictatorial power and local and national level [dark] influence, to make sovereignty truly the people’s, to give people individual freedom, that is true Thai-style democracy, which is democracy with the king as head of state.
In a later announcement on a ‘Plan for a Political Offensive’, the role of state officials in developing democracy is made clear:
The personnel who will be the main instrument in creating democracy in the first period will be government officials, and people with democratic ideology, who will join together to create a democracy which will be an example for the further development of democracy in our country.
In effect, this was the idea of developing and extending existing local defence units as mass political organizations led by the military. Efforts were made to mobilize Border Defence Volunteers for such a purpose.
In 1983 the Internal Security Operations Command, under Prasert’s influence, issued a blueprint for national reform which was strongly resisted by some military factions for its apparent extremism relating to foreign policy and its neutralist stance on Cambodia and Afghanistan, and for its corporatist suggestion of ‘democratization’ by appointing people’s occupational representatives to the legislature. The blueprint was withdrawn, but not before an accompanying educational text had been widely distributed among soldiers and the bureaucracy. In that text, a chapter dealing with democracy clearly aligned the Democratic Soldiers with Sarit. However, in their presentation of democracy the concept of a social contract (sanya prachakhom) is used to define a relationship between people and representatives, thus moving them beyond Sarit’s ‘despotic paternalism’. Returning to a standard reference of democratic definitions in Thailand, the author (widely believed to be Prasert himself) notes that a government for the people is one in which the will of the people is paramount. However, it is explained that democracy is a system in which the people do not rule directly, but through representatives; the people’s will takes the form of a social contract to govern in the interests of the people.
In speaking of government ‘by’ the people, participation of the people is seen as occurring through either elected or appointed representatives. Indeed, the reader is informed that the king is one of the people’s representatives. Another instrument by which the people express themselves is through the military. In a contorted formula, actions by the military were seen as actions by the people:
When the military is the people’s it can do the people’s duty because the military, which has power, can use that power in place of the people. This means the people’s power is with the military itself.
Finally, government ‘for’ the people is simply explained as one in the interests of the majority of the people: ‘Democracyness must encompass “of” “by” and “for” the people if it is to be “perfect”.’
Following a criticism of the existing state of politics as a state of ‘parliamentary dictatorship’ (phetjakan ratthasupha), a Rousseauian argument for non-elective democracy according to the general will (jetthanarum thua pai) appears. But first, genuflections are made in the direction of freedom, equality of opportunity and the rule of law. The Rousseauian turn is the key to understanding the whole edifice of the democracy proposed; it provides the logic of ‘by the military’ described above. Following Rousseau’s argument about the state of nature being a free condition, the author argues that once people enter into society they then live under the general will of society. As he explains: ‘The general will is not the collection of individual wills, but is, rather, the will of people relating to their collective desires and interests. These collective wishes are sovereign.’ Should someone have a will that opposes the general will then that will is wrong:
society has the compelling power to make humans accept the general will and through this method society will make that person free. Therefore, freedom according to Rousseau is behaving according to the will of society and this is the basic principle of democracy.
In the light of this, an interpretation on the role of elections in democracy is offered: in short, it is stated that elections do not necessarily equal democracy: ‘If there is no election but there is the maintenance of the people’s interest…then this is a democratic government.’ While elections are seen as one element of democracy, it is explained that they are the least important, since they may be used democratically or dictatorially. Thai-style democracy, then, as a government in the collective interest, founds itself on the Western philosophy of a mythic social contract instantiated by the moral authority of those in power able to define the will of the people. However, if we follow Chalermkiat’s analysis, this was mediated at the deepest level by ‘unconscious’ efforts to reproduce the stabilizing role of a sacred centre at the heart of a chaotic whole, operationalized by the military, symbolized by the monarchy.
In neo-Thai-style democracy, a mixture of Western philosophy and Thai traditionalism provides a solution to the tension between rights and duties by conflating freedom with actions in accordance with the general will, as expressed in the institutions of monarchy and military. Almost Hegelian, these institutions are seen as containing the most advanced and collective ethos of the people.
In supporting the policies relating to a political struggle against communism, Prem was not necessarily buying into the Prasert position so described. More pragmatically, he was giving shape to an already existing current of thought and practice which provided a united framework in which to focus anti-communist efforts and with which to expand the military’s role in developmental terms. Nevertheless, some active military cadres were advocates of Prasert. Prem at times spoke as if he was a supporter of this line of thinking, stressing military leadership over other government bodies. However, his political pragmatism, and his balancing of interests between the bureaucracy and the capitalist parties, belied any principled stand in this regard.
The prime ministerial orders also provided the means by which to coordinate military psychological, security and development operations through the coordination of existing and new mass organizations, and intervention/infiltration in existing organizations. One such mass organization was the Reservists for National Security, which by 1988 was estimated to have had some 600,000 members. Many of these reservists were given training in democracy propagation, and were expected to provide assistance to villagers as well as to participate in other mass organizations and ensure that they were genuinely ‘democratic’ in terms of carrying out government policy. One project of the reservists was the Democracy Pavilions (sala prachathipatai) established in 1983. By 1990 they had spread to 600 subdistricts. Reservists were encouraged to spend time discussing politics with locals at the local community centre or gathering place, and were also encouraged to enter local government and propagate democratic ideology along development lines. The democracy pavilions were partly seen as a response to the crisis of human resource development in Thailand. As Chaiyasit Tanthayakun notes, the government thought reservists to be disciplined and loyal and thus attempted to mobilize them.
Despite the communist threat subsiding by the mid-1980s, Order 66/1980, and related orders, remained key documents in military thinking. Indeed, as Thailand entered its period of ‘full’ parliamentary democracy in 1988, the military announced on radio, on a number of occasions, the ongoing relevance of the orders:
The military must uphold Prime Ministers Office’s orders 66/2523 and 65/2525 which are correct policy. These policies are not just policies to defeat communists only but can be used as a policy to struggle against all incorrectnesses in the country, for helping the country develop and go towards democracy with the king as head of the nation…the struggle against incorrectness and social injustice, that is a struggle for the success of democracy itself.
Furthermore, as an influential figure behind the adoption of the order, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh remained associated with the thinking of the Democratic Soldiers during his rise through the military ranks. Most famously in 1987 and 1988 he propagated Prasert’s idea of ‘democratic revolution’; although similar in effect to the orders we have looked at, this had a more sinister connotation because of the use of the word ‘revolution’. The speeches he made at this time were related to criticisms of political parties and their capitalist backers. Chavalit’s ideas were a confused mixture of economic and social reforms that would provide for the wellbeing of the people, and a democracy led by the military. Encouraged by Chavalit’s rhetorical imitation, in 1988 Prasert and followers held a meeting of their recently formed Revolutionary Council, calling on parliament to delegate all authority to it. Amidst a tense atmosphere of state enterprise industrial disputation, military attacks on capitalist politicians and coup rumours, Prasert explained that as his Revolutionary Council had representatives from all the regions and occupations, it was the only representative body in the nation and should be allowed to rule. Its policies were effectively a repeat of the Democratic Soldiers’ ideas. While attacked by Chavalit’s rivals in the military as seeking a presidential form of rule, and implicitly suggesting the desire to overthrow the monarchy, others saw the grouping as benign. Prasong Sunsuri, head of the National Security Council, for example, couldn’t quite understand the fuss about the call for revolution: ‘It’s like when a father or mother tells their child to “revolutionize the house” and clean it up. This is not using any force.’
Chapter 6 Citizen King
Towards national ideology once more
Besides the military and the Local Administration Department (LAD), other elements in the universities, security apparatuses and government ministries were part of an attempt to re-ideologize Thai society after the trauma of 1973–6. Statists aimed to formulate elements of past national ideology into a coherent democratic ideology that could effectively respond to both the challenge of the popular movement and the rise of money-politics and parliamentary democracy in the centre. As they cautioned against communism and corruption, state agents deployed the motif of developing a genuine liberal democracy, appropriate to Thailand, and positioned themselves as guardians of the process. However, unlike LAD , whose democratic ideology was limited to disciplining its rural constituency while being increasingly truculent towards the urban political classes, the collection of intellectual forces gathered together in committees located in the Prime Minister’s Office were in a position to elaborate a comprehensive and historical ideology of ‘democracy with the king as head of state’, buffered by religious undertones and moral selfhood. Out of this collaboration between civilian, military and academics came the ideology of ‘democracy with the king as head of state’ in its fullest sense.
After the political crisis of 1976, a sustained effort at re-articulating Thai democracy emerged among the security apparatuses and culminated in the formation of the National Identity Board, within the Prime Minister’s Office. Like Order 66/1980, this development had its roots in the conflict with communism and the desperate need to re-hegemonize the social field, as well as restore state influence in the cultural field. As Craig Reynolds notes, attempts to promote culture and identity were rooted in the loss of prestige the state had suffered in the preceding years, thus ‘the concept of Thai identity, with its disarming ring of transcendence and permanence, has a specific history and conditions of existence’.
Indeed, the history of Thainess was continuous and consistent in the sense that Thai nationalism had begun as a modern enterprise well before the 1932 revolution. After the 1932 revolution, it was a constant theme of militaristic state propaganda, mixed with themes of Thai culture and race. Within these discourses, implicit notions of identity (ekkalak) lurked, and sometimes were overtly expressed. Increasingly, since the 1930s, national ideology has been put to work as a beguiling force aiming to moralize the social field, and dehistoricize the social conditions of life. The hope was that a hegemonic effect of moral unity and a perceived community of fate could be created. It was to the production of this effect that state ideologues aspired in the 1970s.
It was under the ‘specific history and conditions of existence’ of the post-1976 period that state actors collaborated to revive national ideology by a melding of Thai identity, the triad of nation, religion and monarchy, and adding democracy. While what resulted might appear as a cacophony of identity claims and reckless conflation of ideology/identity, state actors succeeded in constructing an elastic complex of Thai ideology/identity. This complex was attentive to both the strains inherent in developmental needs relating to change, and to the hegemonic needs for stabilizing the social field around Thainess. Responding to this task, the National Security Council (NSC), an inter-agency body within the Prime Minister’s Office, composed of senior military figures, high-ranking public servants and university officials, met to consider options. Their aim was ideological planning.
A study of documents circulating within the NSC confirms that the NIB was the outcome of long deliberations on the need for ideological rearticulation after the experience of rising communist insurgency. In 1976 an initial step was taken by setting up the Project to Promote Identity. As one university text in cultural studies puts it, the Thanin regime knew that defeating communism was not simply a military matter, but involved ideological measures to ‘create unity between the people in the nation…so that the people are of one heart’. Towards this end a new magazine was published from within the Prime Minister’s Office, called Thai Identity. In the editorial of the first issue, notice was made of the contaminating foreign influence in Thai culture. A call to arms was issued: ‘we must help each other to promote the strength of Thai identity to be greater and secure’. The magazine declared its fear that Thai culture was being eroded, and compared its own work to that of a dam: ‘developing the mind or culture is like building a dam, because our culture is being washed away’. The dam metaphor is a fitting one; it provided the magazine with its brief of control and containment of the foreign stormwaters deemed inappropriate.
Concerns such as these were not the property of minor official magazines. In 1976 the NSC was circulating a document on the development of national ideology. That document defines national ideology as ‘a system of thought that all people in the nation uphold in order to preserve and build the nation, and which each person aims to act towards together’. The discussion paper notes that ideology is something that can be created, changed and inculcated. Furthermore, it creates morale to fight against obstacles and enemies in pursuit of its realization. National ideology, the argument develops, should be broadened to encompass the dimensions of politics, economics and social psychology. The rationale for this was that existing ideology (nation, religion, king) is too distant from people (hangklai tua koen pai) and no longer ‘stimulates’ (raojai) the people. Fearing the consequences of rapid social change and the subsequent instability, the NSC foresaw continuing threats to national security as long as the people were ‘confused, anxious, and without a common standpoint’. In this state, the people were seen as vulnerable targets to an ‘opposition that has a rigid and stimulating ideology, which will hegemonize [kropngam lae nam khwamkhithen] the thinking of the people, before our side’.
In order to develop national ideology, the NSC argued that both negative and positive salient Thai values needed to be taken into account. These were listed as: love of freedom; loyalty towards the monarchy; respect of religion; dislike of violence; assimilation; coordination of interests; elevation of money, power and knowledge, seniority, generosity, forgiving, fun and risk-taking; belief in the supernatural; doing whatever one pleases; upholding of tradition and custom; a Buddhist contentedness; and an attitude supportive of non-interference in other people’s affairs.
Furthermore, any ideology to be effective needed to take account of the people’s needs. Thus a discussion of different occupational groupings follows. It is argued that a discussion of ‘occupational group’ needs will present clearer objectives as ‘Thai society does not have clear class divisions’. The groups discussed are farmers, merchants, entrepreneurs and bankers, workers, civil servants including the police and the military, and finally students.
What follows is a calculating picture of the conditions and aspirations of major socio-groupings in Thailand, and how these conditions are to be tied to the construction of an ideology enunciated by the watchful security state. Let this be clear: ideology was to be constructed as a response to people’s protests that had been monitored by the security state. To demonstrate this point, the following focuses on how the NSC considered ‘ideology’ needed to be responsive to the needs of various occupational groups, including farmers, who are said to compose 80 per cent of the population. The NSC sums up its understanding of farmers’ grievances and needs from recent protests, grouped into three categories: land and wellbeing, fair prices, and exploitation by capitalists.
Farmers have the following needs and interests:
• a reasonable income
• a fair price for produce
• to possess their own land
• adjust methods of production to be more efficient
• cheaper basic consumer goods
• do not want exploitative capitalists, merchants or intermediaries
• safety in life and property
• better and equal social welfare from the state such as public health, public infrastructure and education
• uphold religion and the monarchy
• dislike violent and rapid social change
• do not wish to be involved in politics
• they need officials to appropriately give justice and care
• they need a political system which protects their economic and social interests and which preserves religious and monarchical institutions.
Similar mappings are made of the remaining social groups, marking their different interests, needs and capacities. As with farmers, the demands of workers, gleaned from over 973 protests, are categorized. The NSC notes that workers, 6 per cent of the population, have developed into groups and are conscious of their own interests. Workers’ needs and interests are listed as: fair wages and a reduction in wealth disparities between workers and employees; socially, welfare from employers, good working conditions, good relations with management and an ability to express their opinion, equal access to social welfare opportunity and equality, and the need to be accepted as an important class. Politically, workers were seen as needing a role in protecting their own interests, and, more generally, as wanting a political voice.
As for capitalists (merchants/bankers/businesspeople), 9 per cent of the population, it is noted that they pursue their economic interests, and require security and a stable political system to safeguard their interests. The civil service, comprising 5 per cent of the population, is treated as having its own specific interests:
This interest group…has power and an important role in leading and building society because the civil service is important in doing the work of the state and it is well educated. Its needs and interests are summarized as follows: an income appropriate to status, it seeks honor and support from society, and prefers gradual change.
Politically, they are said to need a government that follows ‘the democratic line’. Students are described as wanting to be the leaders in the struggle for economic and social equality. Furthermore they seek rapid change.
Although unstated, these readings of occupational groupings are informed not just by spying on demonstrations and recording grievances, but also by a typology of political culture. From descriptions of farmers purportedly with little interest in politics who seek comfort under the wings of a benevolent state, to politically conscious students, the research of political scientists was producing a comprehensive picture of the people-body so that it could be managed. This document served as the basis for discussions on the formation of a national ideology that could creatively respond to social group needs, but which could also unite these groups around a common national interest by expanding the existing contours of national ideology expressed in the triad. The conundrum was how to do this; with remarkable self-consciousness, state ideologists went to work on the problem.
By 1979 the NSC and Cabinet had accepted as a basic statement of national ideology a document submitted by the screening committee of the NSC, written in 1979 by Professors Kramol Thongthammachart and Sippamon Ketutat. This document follows closely the argument made in 1976 on the need to develop relevant national ideology which could be a reference point for action and common unity. The authors acknowledge that ideology can emerge ‘naturally’ by letting social institutions and forces influence members of society. However, they argue a case for setting down supervised measures for socio-political institutions to convey effectively, and in unity, ideology. The experience of modern political ideologies such as fascism and communism are cited as demonstrating the need to have unity, comprehensiveness and organizational capacity in order to successfully convey ideology.
The authors note that the NSC, in coordination with government agencies, had elaborated national ideology as follows:
Preserve the nation, defend independence and democracy, protect religion, treasure and preserve the monarchy, eliminate socio-economic disparities, eliminate suffering and nourish wellbeing, assimilate interests, maintain rights and freedoms, create unity and integrity, uphold the identity of and promote the decent culture of the Thai people.
The authors then note that the above ideology can be divided into two levels: national political ideology, and a practical approach to its realization. Political ideology is described as an approach to the political aspirations of the Thai people, which has the compelling power to defeat ideological currents that ‘do not correspond with the identity and disposition of the Thai people’.
Such a political ideology is described as:
Protection and preservation of the nation, symbolized by the monarchy, religion and Thai culture…a political, economic and social democracy that affirms the important principle that the interests of the community comes before any other, and the cooperation of all groups.
Addressing how this ideology might be realized meant using the methods of democracy, ‘consisting of rights and freedoms under the law which protects the interests of the majority’, to address social inequalities on the basis of ‘the cooperation of all classes that make up society’.
The paper goes on to argue the need to address the concrete grievances of the people and for national ideology to reflect such concerns. In closing, a series of recommendations is presented for the successful propagation of national ideology. These include setting up an organization of language and psychological experts who could simplify ideology into slogans, controlling the media to ensure it does not go against the principles of neutrality and service to the people, and nurturing ideologues to convey national ideology in all occupations, and the setting-up of a consultative committee to propose measures on the promotion of national ideology. Many of these recommendations were acted upon. Of particular note were workshops for radio broadcasters so that they could be effective communicators of ideology. In one such workshop the importance of national ideology was explained:
Ideology is an instrument of the national leaders, or a doctrine, to use with the masses in order to produce change in the required direction. National ideology should come from the national leaders so that it can be accepted in general.
These vigorous recommendations gestured to the past, when more strenuous effort was given to cultural and ideological propagation. Since the Sarit era, Yukthi Mukdawijit observes, such efforts had become lax and lacked organizational backup. The NSC was effectively recommending a return to more conscious and creative cultural propagation. It was time, some apparently thought, to move beyond the monotonous replaying of nationalist and royalist songs on the radio. Indeed, there was a feeling that the people remained untouched by official ideology, with one NIB notable suggesting that the real ideological triad in Thailand was the ‘ideology of three Ss’, saduak, sabai and sanuk (convenience, comfort and fun). The two documents discussed so far are fairly directive, and the intellectual framework behind them, while apparent, is not expounded.
Important in the formation of post-1976 national ideology is the political thought of Kramol Thongthammachart. Reputedly associated with the Praphat and Thanom regime in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Kramol is a leading intellectual of modern statist democracy. His influence was consolidated in the 1980s when he became Minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office under Prem. In this position he was able to influence the ideological work of the regime through the National Identity Board, sitting as an executive member. In an article that sets the major themes for the 1980s, Kramol reveals his modernist development outlook and reveals the underlying frame to statist democratic thought. Kramol was a conscious ideologue, who saw his task in terms of conscious ideological production directed towards people having ideology on the ‘tip of the tongue’.
Working with a notion of ideology as the basis for a normative integration of national society, Kramol argues for a governing party to support ‘national ideology’ and to harness social and political institutions towards ideological ends. Citing as examples Indonesia, Burma and Malaysia, Kramol argues that in conflicted societies it is necessary to take different ideological strands and attempt to construct a national ideology. However, it is to the experience of China that Kramol looks: ‘China was able to use communism as an instrument in leading and mobilizing the people to work for society.’ The conditions for this success lay in the fact that the Chinese Communist Party was a mass party with members who persuaded the people to learn and act in accordance with the ideology. More generally, Kramol lays down six conditions for the effective functioning of a national ideology:
1 It must be a system of thought supported by the main social institutions, or which can be moulded into social philosophy.
2 It must be a system of thought that can explain the good things that society should preserve and the bad things that should be eliminated for the purpose of social justice and the common good.
3 It must be based on reason and science that is empirically provable.
4 It must be a system of thought that can point to the methods which people should uphold in order to lead society to an excellent condition.
5 It must be a system of thought which the leader practises continuously and which has good results for society, including being able to resist other ideologies.
6 It must be a system of thought which corresponds with the consciousness and needs of the majority.
Kramol goes on to argue that should a national ideology be successfully established the people would be united. This would help the people perceive their relationship to each other, a necessary process in the creation of common objectives. Such a state of normative integration would inspire action towards a more just society, as well as help members of society to see through the existing societal decadence. An ideologically motivated people could help a sluggish society develop, lead to rationally justified behaviour, and would assist the process of peaceful change. While Kramol follows the general argument that the triad has had a role in uniting the people, he expresses some disquiet because ‘the weak point of this ideology is its emphasis on only three institutions of Thai society’. He thus seeks to expand the ideological compass. For him, the problem was not simply that existing ideological propagation was unclear, it also failed to specify how solidarity with the three pillars could be expressed. Also, Kramol argues that the triad provides no incentive in terms of guaranteeing a better life, thus it is necessary
to expand the three pillars to have wide scope and to encompass approaches and methods to solve various problems of Thai society, even so far that the way of life can be thought of as expressing loyalty to the Nation, Religion and the Monarchy.
This is an important statement, for it provides a link between the three pillars and the ordinariness of everyday life and problems.
Rejecting currents in academia for a form of liberal socialism (seen as being unacceptable to Thai conservatives), Kramol sought to develop an ideology ‘that fits with the consciousness of the majority of Thais’. Extrapolating from the findings of an ISOC security-related research project, Kramol reports the people’s needs as fivefold:
• Treasure and preserve the nation, religion, the monarchy and the identity of Thainess.
• Develop and build political institutions for a secure democracy.
• Adjust the economic system towards a mixed economy which is just, efficient, and lets the people have a good life, and security of property and life.
• Elevate society and culture of the country so that the people have a simple life, are thrifty, diligent and have a high level of responsibility to society.
• Adjust the administration of the country so that it is a democracy that is clean, pure, just and truly serves the people.
In an attempt to simplify this fivefold schema, Kramol argues for the first point to be known as the ‘ideology of the tri-allegiance’ (udomkan trai pak) and the remaining four points to be named ‘the ideology of the four paths’ (udomkan jatumrak). The four paths were ways of ensuring the maintenance of the three pillars.
What is significant about Kramol’s article is the manner in which ideology is seen to be a matter of eloquently composing a formula that connects the lives and wellbeing of the people to the three pillars—such that the conduct of those lives is seen as contributing to the security of the triad, and the security of the triad contributes to the wellbeing of the people. This ideological reformation of people’s needs into state ideology would be a constant and aggrandizing practice of the state.
In 1978 General Kriengsak Chomanand, then Prime Minister, established a secret Committee to Promote National Security to respond to attacks on the ‘highest institutions’ of the land. This committee later took public shape as a Committee to Promote National Identity before being established as a formal office in 1980 when the many currents of thought among statist intellectuals had coalesced into a practical outcome, the establishment of the National Identity Board. The NIB was charged with considering policy, planning and the promotion of national identity, and the promotion of ‘knowledge and correct understanding of national institutions’.
Following its establishment, discussion continued on the question of what constituted national identity and ideology. Following Kramol, others argued the case for social justice, income distribution, economic reform and the need to address the shortfalls of the free market.