Thailand’s king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has breathed his last. As the longest reigning monarch in the world there shall undoubtedly be a period of mourning observed across Thailand, but the death of a hereditary head of state raises one important question: should he be replaced? Obviously someone should replace him as head of state, but why does that person need to be a king? I contend that it doesn’t and that Thailand should seize this opportunity to become a democratic republic.
I have written about my personal abhorrence of monarchy on multiple occasions, because I find it disgusting that anybody in the twenty-first century should be venerated because they were birthed from a sacred vagina, but I believe it necessary to outline what Thailand’s opportunity is.
Since the military took over control of Thailand in 2014 the country has been exposed to vast propaganda operation designed to force people to be deferential to the monarchy. Indeed in 2015 the military began a public campaign calling on ordinary Thai citizens to “worship, uphold, and protect the monarchy”. If a monarchist came up to me and asked me to worship, uphold, and protect the monarchy, I would ignore them because I have a philosophical disagreement with them. However, if I was a monarchist I wouldn’t worship the monarchy; I’d be fine with protecting and upholding the institution, but I wouldn’t start thinking that the king was divine, because that clearly be false. No human being should be treated as a god, and to argue otherwise physically disgusts me.
But aside from the propaganda efforts by the military, there is also a real financial cost. In the 2016 fiscal year, the military announced the budget for protecting the monarchy would be 18 billion Baht, which is over $500 million (USD). This is ridiculous sum of money considering that, according to the World Bank, around 7.5 million people in Thailand are classified as ‘in poverty’ or ‘poor’. An elected head of state would still involve expenditure but significantly less than a monarchy does. According to Royal Central, a pro-monarchy group in the UK, the cost of the French Presidency is around £91 million or approximately $110 million (USD). Considering economic growth in Thailand has dropped off in recent years, an injection of $390 million (US) every year would be able to extend access to healthcare, education, and lift people out of poverty.
However my main arguments against the continuation of the Thai monarchy are normative and philosophical. I personally believe that all human beings should be treated equally, and monarchies inculcate societies with the idea of the monarch being superior to other people. Furthermore democracy should be a fundamental principle of any society. If a government is not democratically accountable to the people they rule over corruption and irrationality will flourish. Democratic oversight of government requires all decision-making to be justified to the electorate on pain of losing the next election. Finally, the existence of lèse-majesté laws illustrates a sensitivity that needs to be obliterated. If the law has been designed to protect institutions from being criticised or held to account then the the law-makers are tacitly accepting that the institution in question is not strong enough to withstand such criticism. Any political system that cannot withstand mild criticism is pathetic and needs to be burned to the ground.
The death of any individual is always a said occasion because human life is something that should be cherished, but please forgive me if I do not mourn the Thai king’s death. I’m sure that he was a normal man with many good features, but he embodied a system of government that I detest, and at no point in his rule did he do the morally decent thing and renounce his title. Thailand’s opportunity is to embrace democracy, save money, and radically transform their society into one that values all citizens equally. I do not think this is likely because monarchism is incredibly popular in Thailand but I live in hope.