Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Thai – Athipatai

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



Relates to sovereignty

In Thai, the concept of sovereignty is derived from the Pali word athipatoeyya which means khwam pen yai ying: supremacy.  It is however, a relatively new term and one that was not used in Thailand before the reign of King Chulalongkorn. The term ‘athipatai’ can be used as a suffix for a number of other terms, so in Thai the word ‘sovereignty’ can be expanded to a much broader extent. This is an interesting contrast to English usage where sovereignty is usually much more limited and specific. In Thailand, awareness of the notion of sovereignty has been heightened by the official mantra that Thailand was never colonised by a Western power, in contrast to the surrounding countries of Southeast Asia. Violations of sovereignty (la merd atipatai) are considered major threats to the nation and its claim to regional leadership. Recent confrontations with Cambodia have often been framed in terms of this sovereignty.

In Thai there are a range of systems of government that are described with reference to sovereignty.  These include:

•Amnat athipatai khong ratthasapha อำนาจอธิปไตยของรัฐสภา – parliamentary sovereignty (p.469)

•Prachathipatai ประชาธิปไตย – democracy (p.359)

•Prachathipatai khong puang chon ประชาธิปไตยของปวงชน – people’s democracy (p.359)

•Prachathipatai doy trong ประชาธิปไตยโดยตรง – direct democracy (p.359)

•Prachathipatai thang utsahakam ประชาธิปไตยทางอุตสาหกรรม –  industrial democracy (p.359)

•Prachathipatai baep chinam ประชาธิปไตยแบบชี้นำ – guided democracy (p.359)

•Prachathipatai sangkhomniyom ประชาธิปไตยสังคมนิยม – social democracy (p.359)

•Setthayathipatai  เศรษฐยาธิปไตย-plutocracy (p.401)

•Anathipatayi อนาธิปไตย – anarchy (p.421)

•Rachathipatayi ราชาธิปไตย – monarchy (p.391)

•Matathipatai  มาตาธิปไตย – matriarchy (p.380)

•Pitathipatai ปิตาธิปไตย – patriarchy (p.362)

•Thewathipatai  เทวาธิปไตย – theocracy  (p.346)

•Thorachanathipatai ทรชนาธิปไตย – kakistocracy (p.340)

•Khanathipatai  คณาธิปไตย – oligarchy  (p.311)

•Aphichanathipatai  อภิชนาธิปไตย – aristocracy  (p.422)

•Ammatayathipatai  อมาตยาธิปไตย – bureaucracy (p.427)

•Ae-gathipatai  เอกาธิปไตย – autarchy; monocracy  (p.428)

Thus, the word ‘sovereignty’ is used as a suffix to describe and label different systems of governance. When it is combined with other prefixes, the word can also reflect the ‘possession of power supremacy’.  In Buddhism (Dictionary of Buddhism, 2003: 307), sovereignty persists in three forms named ‘athipatai as follows:

  1. Attathippatai (atta+athipatai) or ego-sovereignty (egotism)
  2. Lokathipatai (lok+athipatai) or worldly-sovereignty (popularism)
  3. Dharmathipatai (Dharma+athipatai) or Dharma-sovereignty or Dharmocracy)

Ego-sovereignty or egotism holds that self-interest has precedence.  Worldly-sovereignty or popularism holds that the perspective of the group and of social trends has precedence.  Dharma-sovereignty holds that truth, and the righteousness or the correctness of virtues and goodness should be given precedence.  These three types of ‘athipatai’ can be applied to the various forms of governance, particularly absolute monarchy (rachathipatai), oligarchy (khanathipatai) and democracy (prachathipatai).

Possession of Power Supremacy Based on


Based on Popularism Based on


One person Ego-absolute monarchy Worldly-absolute monarchy Dharma-absolute monarchy
A group of persons Ego-oligarchy Worldly-oligarchy Dharma-oligarchy
Majority of people Ego-democracy Worldly-democracy Dharma-democracy

Source:  Weera Somboon, Thammathipatay-prachathipatay-chon chan klang (1), Matichon weekly, 5-11 May 2006:  31

In a democratic society provided the opinions of the majority of the people are based on the Dharma or morality or righteousness (Dharma-pracha), then it can achieve what some Thai commentators call ‘Dharma-democracy (Dharmocracy)’ or the ‘real democracy’.  Democracy, as such, remains a problematic concept where competing interpretations can generate very different political platforms.  The assertion of different forms of ‘sovereignty’ by the People’s Alliance for Democracy and the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship are illustrative cases.  Without Dharma-pracha and Dharma-democracy, the country may have ‘jorathipatai โจราธิปไตย’ (Ibid:  41) which can be translated as ‘Bandit sovereignty/Banditocracy’ or ‘Thorachanathipatai ทรชนาธิปไตย – Kakistocracy’, which can affect the public interest and harm the sustainability of the democratic system of governance.





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