Reform and Compromise

Thoughts on monarchy reform, finding a new consensus, and the establishment’s harmful monopoly on loyalty.

Royalists hold up a photo of the late king / Prachatai 

For the first issue of The Bastion, I wanted to write something poetically named Beginnings about the dissolution of Future Forward and how it started the movement we’re seeing today.

Turns out that post gave me severe writer’s block, so here we are, instead with a post about the monarchy, which by the way, was much easier to write. Beginnings are hard, so I guess we’ll just jump straight into the middle.


There’s a scene in The Crown, where Princess Margaret gives an interview and voices her political opinions. This leads to an angry lecture from Winston Churchill, who tells her that her actions harmed not just herself, but also the monarchy:

No one wants you to be you, they want you to be it — the Crown. The minute you become yourself, you shatter the illusion, you break the spell.

And that’s exactly what any monarch should be fearful of. The moment the crown is seen as political, seen as taking sides, it risks alienating half the country. And above all, it risks breaking the spell, destroying its legitimacy.

Any monarchy that coexists with a democracy and a constitution is forever stuck in a delicate balance between doing too much and doing too little. If it does nothing or does too little, it is merely an antiquated symbol, an obsolete vestige from the past. But if the crown is sacred, why not interfere in politics to ensure good governance? But if it does, it risks everything. It can no longer be infallible nor sacred.

The winds of change are here. In fact, they have been here for centuries. Any misstep by any monarchy could be its downfall. Tread carefully or risk angering the masses. And once they’re angry, anything could happen.

It’s best not to leave the crown’s future to chance.

This is why, Pitch Pongsawat, when asked at a panel what he thinks the protesters should compromise on, said, “constitutional monarchy is already a compromise.”

And he’s right. The numbers of monarchies aren’t increasing — they’re decreasing! Which is precisely why if you truly have goodwill towards the monarchy, you must support reform. If you don’t, you risk its destruction.

Consensus

For decades, we had what Kasian Tejapira called the “Bhumibol Consensus.” There was a popular agreement on the role of the monarchy and what it can and cannot do.

Whatever your views on politics or the monarchy, it should be obvious that the consensus is crumbling fast. Gone are the days where the monarch could step in, credibly stop a massacre, and emerge as a unifying figure. These days, the same action would likely lead to an opposite outcome, with the nation becoming less peaceful and less unified.

On the streets and online, we see a growing number of people question the role of the monarchy. They want to rewrite the social contract and reconsider what the monarchy can and cannot do. But no one else wants to talk about it.

This lets the protesters dominate the conversation. The loudest (and only) voices in the room are Rung, Penguin, Arnon, and others. Reasonable royalists have a lot to add, but they can’t do so if they sit this one out.

Instead of facilitating a safe space for discussion or encouraging talks in parliament, the state has done everything in its power to squash conversation. And when it does, it shuts the doors on a moderating process, instead, driving people to the streets, where anything could happen.

This only serves to radicalize the protesters, as any prolonged conflict with no attempts at compromise inevitably does. Now, some are even starting to talk about a republic. Again, their frustrations will only grow unless the government starts compromising.

If we are to find a peaceful way out, find a new consensus, we must have a safe space to discuss these reforms. The protest leaders have been clear that their 10 demands are negotiable. They are willing to compromise and work across the divide to find a common solution. So royalists, too, must join the conversation, and help craft a consensus together.

It is the only way out. Don’t shut this door too.

A monarchy for everyone

For so long, the establishment and the military have sought to monopolize the monarchy. Only they can be loyal, and all their actions, good or bad, serve to protect the crown. As such, their actions should not be scrutinized.

In addition, their enemies are disloyal and seek to topple the monarchy. Anyone not with the establishment is against the crown.

Even recently, this practice has not stopped. Rather, it has gotten more out of hand. As Piyabutr and Parit Wacharasindhu recently brought up in their discussion of constitutional monarchy, Prayut loves to cite the monarchy as the basis for his actions.

After the 2017 constitution was finalized, Prayut remarked that the king wished to make edits, so the junta-appointed legislature should amend the law to allow him to do so.

In 2019, the new cabinet was sworn in. However, the oath of office that Prayut had led the ministers in reciting was incomplete — missing the part about defending the constitution. Later, Prayut refused to clarify what caused the omission, but said that issue had been privately remedied with the king.

On both occasions, Prayut did the opposite of what a prime minister in a constitutional monarchy should do.

First with editing the constitution, if the king had indeed privately expressed his wishes, Prayut should have kept the request in confidence. If he still wanted the legislature to pass the amendment, he should have asked them to without ever mentioning the king. And if Prayut was criticized for this, he should own it, as any real leader would.

Secondly, on the oath of office, whatever the cause of the error, Prayut should have apologized and pledged to lead another oath, this time without omissions. He is the head of government — he should act like one.

But as we know, Prayut instead chose to cite the monarchy to shield his actions. And by doing so, he was tying himself, the regime, and the military to the crown.

When Prayut does things like this, he harms the monarchy. Just like how dressing up soldiers in royal yellow and having them act like thugs can only hurt the monarchy, tying the regime’s legitimacy and popularity to the palace can only hurt the institution.

No political figure holds universal acclaim, and Prayut is no exception. It is inevitable his unpopularity would rub off on the crown, all because he worked so hard to link the crown to his regime. All because he worked so hard to monopolize loyalty.

Royalist brandishes “Long Live the King” tattoo

If the monarchy is only for those who like Prayut and the military, what are the rest of us supposed to do?


If there is to be a path forward, the monarchy must be for everyone.

There is no way this works if only one side of the political spectrum has a claim on the monarchy. I don’t know why they don’t see this.

And lastly, it should be obvious at this point that reform is inevitable if the crown is to coexist with the newer generation. Again, I hope royalists see this too, and join the conversation.

The only way out is through.