Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Thai – Khwaam Chop Tham (Dharma)

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Legitimacy, Thai


Khwaam Chop Tham (Dharma)

Relates to legitimacy/righteousness

In Thai, the prefix or suffix ‘Dharma’ is added to many words which relate to State governance. This is a significant concept that is used by everyone in Thailand to describe political platforms of almost all flavours.

When the country was under an absolute monarchy, the state was identified with and indistinguishable from the King. At that time Thotsaphitratchadharma or the ‘Ten virtues of the ruler’ were guidelines for the King to behave as a Dharma Racha / Dharmikkarat or as a ‘moral King’. The Khamphii Dharmasattra, an Indian manual for ruling a country, was used as manual for governing the country.  As a ruler, the King must have Khwam Chop Tham (Dharma) or ‘legitimacy/righteousness’.  ‘Chop’ in this context means correct/right while the word ‘tham or Dharma’ can refer to duties (Buddhadasa, 2545: 14 -15). Related words are khwam yutidharma (justice or fairness), sinladharma (morality) and khunnadharma (virtue).

Legitimacy is also linked to ‘authority’. Legitimacy or righteousness must follow the law, morality, ethics and virtue.  The meaning of ‘legitimacy’ (khwam chop tham) as mentioned here When Thailand was under a quasi-democratic regime, it became apparent that an ‘anticommunist doctrine and ultra conservative ideology were not a sufficient basis for legitimation’ (Alagappa, 1995:  213).  In terms of the relationship between “dharma” and “legitimacy”, even though we consider  the ‘dharma’ in the broader sense to cover morals, virtue, ethics, justice, righteousness, as well as ‘duties’, which are the ‘shared norms and values’ of every society,  the word ‘dharma’ still can’t be used as a ‘neutral term’.  People who follow other religions may hesitate to accept it since it is generally known as a Buddhist word.

With this in mind, claims to Buddhist legitimacy are often used to disrupt alternative political and social platforms.  To be declared illegitimate by royalist and establishment forces is to struggle against the weight of the Thai polity.




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