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Bangkok, May 2010 Bangkok, May 2010
Perspectives on a Divided Thailand

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7 - The Ineffable Rightness of Conspiracy: Thailand's Democrat-ministered State and the Negation of Red Shirt Politics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2015

Marc Askew
Affiliation:
Walailak University
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Summary

Thailand's Democrat Party-led administration under the leadership of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva emerged victorious following the dramatic and ultimately bloody confrontations with the Red Shirt movement during March-May 2010. But this victory was achieved at the expense of persistent, in fact exacerbated, political polarization. This is so because the Red Shirts’ second messianic attempt to force political change by mass action was suppressed not simply by legally sanctioned military power — the state's reaction was legitimized by the application of two potent conspiracy discourses, namely “terrorism” and the overthrow of the monarchy. The former is newly devised, but the latter is old; I describe it here as Thailand's “Primary Conspiracy Theory”. There is not the space here to elaborate at length on the historical genesis and various mutations of the Primary Conspiracy Theory and its formal and informal institutional supports (the former exemplified in the manipulation of Thailand's lesè majesté law). Suffice it to say that the increasingly hysterical claim since late 2005 that the “monarchy is in danger” from evil plotters is a vital dimension of hyperroyalist Thai popular nationalism and an institutionalized discourse embraced and deployed by key palace-aligned conservative actors (notably Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanon), the now dominant Queen's Guard faction of the military and the Democrat Party. This trend has certainly not been discouraged by the palace, exemplified by the queen's attendance of and utterances at funerals of members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in 2008. Deployed by the PAD as a vital weapon to mobilize popular middle-class opposition to then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and by the military command as a crucial justification for the 2006 coup against him, the imperative to “protect the monarchy” has become the key pre-emptive ideological buttress for conservative rule in the name of “Democracy with the King as Head of State.” The Primary Conspiracy Theory has long lurked in Thai conservative discourse, both as a central anxiety and a political weapon, reflecting the revival (and re-sacralization) of the monarchy in post-1945 Thailand. At times of system strain, such as the Cold War period, and currently in the anxious closing years of the ninth reign, it has been openly deployed as a mechanism to silence dissent and critique.

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Bangkok, May 2010
Perspectives on a Divided Thailand
, pp. 72 - 86
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2012

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