In Thailand since at least 1973, democratic practice – demanded by students and elites, supported by the king and later formally embraced by the armed forces in its fight against communism – has increased the participation of the broader population in Thai politics. Yet the monarchy and armed forces has retained the will and power to depose or bolster governments. Since the 1970s, a roughly equal number of prime ministers have been elected as have been appointed by royal intervention or through royally-approved military coups.
Now the military-monarchy nexus is facing the most significant challenge in its history. In 2020 a new national student movement has been confronting the country’s conservative establishment, demanding constitutional and now monarchical reform. The students wish for an end to coups, the resignation of the current Prime Minister, and a monarchy above politics and below the constitution.
The scale and intensity of the protests has been growing, and for some weeks Thailand has appeared to be heading towards either a Tiananmen Square-type bloody putdown, or a rapid Berlin Wall-collapse-like political shift. Thai politics remains extremely fluid, with extraordinary events occurring on an almost daily basis. Now with the King’s unprecedented public interview with a foreign journalist, we are seeing signs that momentous political change might be in the offing. Does the King’s declaration that “Thailand is the land of compromise” mean a solution might be found to Thailand’s wongchon ubat (evil cycle) of repeated military coups and new constitutions? Or will Thailand simply sink deeper into the sophisticated authoritarianism practised by some of its neighbours?
Hosted by The Australian National University (ANU) Southeast Asia Institute, the Special Thai Update will profile the protest movement, place it in historical context, explain how the COVID-induced hit to the economy has played a part, and look at how the security forces are responding.
Register for the event here.
Tyrell Haberkorn is Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Wisconsin. Tyrell researches and writes about state violence and dissident cultural politics in Thailand from the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932 until the present. She is the author of Revolution Interrupted: Farmers, Students, Law and Violence (2011) and In Plain Sight: Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand (2018).
Puangthong R. Pawakapan is Associate Professor at Department of International Relations, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. She is currently researching on the Thai military's internal security affairs and her forthcoming is Infiltrating Society: The Thai Military's Internal Security Affairs (ISEAS). Her recent works include State and Uncivil Society in Thailand at the Temple of Preah Vihear (ISEAS, 2013); “The Central Role of Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command in the Post-Counter-insurgency Period,” Trends in Southeast Asia (ISEAS: Singapore 2017); “The Foreign Press’ Changing Perceptions of Thailand’s Monarchy.” After the Coup: 22 May 2014 and the Future of Thailand (ISEAS, 2019).
Dr Suphat Suphachalasai received his Ph.D. in Economics from The Australian National University. He is an Associate Professor and the Director of Thammasat Institute of Area Studies (TIARA), Thammasat University. His general research interests span a wide range of topics including trade policy, trade negotiations industrialisation policies in developing countries, industrial economics, economics of telecommunication and Australian studies.
Chris Baker is a historian and long-time resident of Thailand. With Pasuk Phongpaichit, he has recently authored A History of Ayutthaya: Siam in the Early Modern World, and Kings in Love: Lilit Phra Lo and Twelve Months, Two Classic Thai Poems. In 2017 they jointly won the Fukuoka Grand Prize.
Dr Gregory V. Raymond is a lecturer in the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs researching Southeast Asian politics and foreign relations. He is the author of Thai Military Power: A Culture of Strategic Accommodation (NIAS Press 2018) and the lead author of The United States-Thai Alliance: History, Memory and Current Developments (Routledge, forthcoming). His work has been published in journals including Contemporary Southeast Asia, South East Asia Research and the Journal of Cold War Studies. As well as convening the ASEAN Australia Defence Postgraduate Scholarship Program, he is an editor of the journal Security Challenges and is ANU Press editor for the Asia Pacific Security series.
This webinar will be recorded.