Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Monarchy and Democracy

Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Spain
It's been a while since my last blog post, mainly because it's exam season for me right now, so I really haven't had much time for blogging. Which is a shame, because there has been a great deal to talk about over the last two or three weeks for those of a conservative monarchist persuasion. The biggest news for me, at least, was King Juan Carlos of Spain's decision to abdicate, announced the 2nd June. There has naturally been a lot of buzz in the media and "blogosphere" about His Catholic Majesty's announcement (King Juan Carlos never used the style "Catholic Majesty," but I still like to as it is the traditional manner of address for Spanish monarchs and tradition is precious), but the article that caught my interest the most was this article, which looked back on the King's suppression of an attempted nationalist coup d'état in 1981, when His Catholic Majesty ordered a group of military officers who had attempted to seize control of the recently restored Kingdom of Spain and revive the Franco era dictatorship to return to their barracks.

The article draws a comparison between King Juan Carlos' actions in 1981 and the recent coup d'état by military forces in Thailand. General Prayuth Chan-ocha led the coup last month to overthrow the caretaker government and restore order after months of protests by the rival "Yellowshirt" and "Redshirt" factions. For those unfamiliar with Thailand's troubles, the Yellowshirts are largely middle-class, urban royalists who opposed the corrupt government of Yingluck Shinawatra, who many saw as a puppet of her brother the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was overthrown by a previous military coup in 2006 and has been living in exile ever since. The "Redshirts" are largely rural agricultural workers from the north of the country, who support the Shinawatras and their Pheu Thai Party because of their populist policies which benefit the lower classes. Recently the Yellowshirts succeeded in their aims of ousting Yingluck Shinawatra from power, but were unimpressed with the fact that the Constitutional Court who deposed Yingluck allowed a rump of her government to remain power as the caretaker government until a new election. Meanwhile, Red Shirts took to the streets to protest Yingluck's removal, and Thailand found itself on the brink of anarchy as the two factions fought one another.

Amidst this chaos, General Prayuth seized power. To legitimise his new military-run government, Prayuth sought the support of the revered King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Initially, Prayuth was going to have an audience with the King who would then confirm the legitimacy of his government. Then, Prayuth was going to write a letter to the King. Finally Prayuth announced that the King had endorsed his regime in a press conference. Cue the tide of condemnation by outraged westerners. It's all the King's fault, they said. Of course an undemocratic institution like a monarchy would support an undemocratic dictatorship! Yet things may not be as they appear. After General Prayuth's declaration last month, the customary televised address by the King confirming his support for the coup did not occur (as I mentioned earlier, this is not the first time the military has stepped in to restore order in Thailand after the failure of elected governments), and most tellingly, the letter presented by Prayuth as proof of the King's support lacked the customary royal seal. There have been questions over whether the ailing 86 year old monarch is in any condition to be making decisions like whether or not to endorse a military coup.

The article I linked to in my first paragraph makes no mention of the Thai King's previous actions to protect the constitution and Thailand's democratic system. In 1992, Thailand experienced another military coup. General Suchinda Kraprayoon overthrew the government of Chatichai Choonhavan, and took power as Prime Minister despite not being elected to Parliament. The Thai people responded with a wave of protests led by former general Chamlong Srimuang. Suchinda ordered that Chamlong be arrested and declared a state of emergency and made gatherings of more than ten people illegal. On the 20th May, Princess Sirindhorn and Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn both made televised appeals for calm and an end to the violence. Later that day, the King himself broadcast a meeting between himself, Suchinda and Chamlong, with the two generals kneeling before the King as custom dictated; the King remonstrated them for their conduct and urged them to put an end to their confrontation and work together through parliamentary procedures, for the good of the nation which, the King said, belongs to "everyone, not one or two specific people. The problems exist because we don't talk to each other and resolve them together. The problems arise from 'bloodthirstiness'. People can lose their minds when they resort to violence. Eventually, they don't know why they fight each other and what the problems they need to resolve are. They merely know that they must overcome each other and they must be the only winner. This no way leads to victory, but only danger. There will only be losers, only the losers. Those who confront each other will all be the losers. And the loser of the losers will be the Nation. ... For what purpose are you telling yourself that you're the winner when you're standing upon the ruins and debris?".

His Majesty the King of Thailand, right, instructs the feuding generals
Suchinda Kraprayoon and Chamlong Srimuang to put their grievances
aside for the good of the nation.
The King's intervention ended the violence; Suchinda released Chamlong and announced an amnesty for the protesters. He also agreed to support an amendment requiring the Prime Minister to be elected. Chamlong asked the demonstrators to disperse, and Suchinda shortly afterwards resigned as Prime Minister of Thailand. Royal intervention brought the violence to an end. King Bhumibol Adulyadej acted on that day with much the same courage and love for his people and for freedom as King Juan Carlos did in 1981. Those who criticise the Thai King should brush up on their history. More recently, the King refused a request by the loudly royalist Yellowshirts to appoint a Prime Minister without the consent of Parliament, as doing so would be unconstitutional. Clearly this man is a despot! Why, then, has King Bhumibol Adulyadej given his blessing to this military coup? The King has not been seen for months now, and is known to be very ill. Perhaps His Majesty simply isn't in any position to be standing up to coup leaders. It's been suggested that the King is in fact comatose at this point. These are sad thoughts; few modern heads of state deserve the respect that the King of Thailand has earned. But even if he cannot put an end to the infighting in person, the King's words in that speech from May, 1992 should echo down the years. Thais today would do well to listen to their King, even if he hasn't the strength to make himself heard.

I am a strong believer that monarchy is a strong institution because it is an adaptable institution. The constitutional monarchies of modern Europe evolved from the feudal monarchies of the high middle ages, through the Age of Absolutism, to take the form they now possess. Monarchy is compatible with almost any other form of government, including democracy, and the examples of Juan Carlos and Bhumibol Adulyadej demonstrate that even in a democratic system where power is mainly focused in the hands of elected politicians, a monarchy is both relevant and advantageous, providing stability and a check on the power of other institutions. With the King of Thailand in ill health and his heir apparent, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, spending the recent political crisis in the United Kingdom the future of Thailand and the Thai monarchy looks increasingly uncertain. Yet so long as he lives, and no doubt long after, King Bhumibol Adulyadej will be a rallying point for Thais as the man who ended a potentially violent conflict by ordering two men to get down on their knees and work out their problems together. The Spanish, by contrast, have a relatively certain future, with an heir apparent- Felipe, Prince of Asturias, soon to be King Felipe VI- who has shown every sign of one day being an fine monarch. Even so, there are calls for a Third Spanish Republic, even though the current constitutional monarchy has been the first stable democratic state in Spanish history and the two previous republics have failed. The people of Spain should look to history, especially their own, and especially the actions of King Juan Carlos, the man who gave them the very freedoms they now use to call for his son's deposition.

Above all else, in any system be it constitutional or absolute, democratic or not, a monarchy stands for law and order. Monarchism is all about legitimacy, and this is what differentiates it from any other non-democratic movement- and often even from democracy. The monarch is the embodiment of the State and the Law, and its premier defender, because he or she draws their legitimacy from that law. I am reminded, curiously enough, of another monarch who is most often remembered as an opponent of democracy, and his words on the nature of power and legitimacy;

"If I would have given way to an arbitrary way, for to have all laws changed according to the power of the sword, I needed not to have come here; and therefore I tell you (and I pray God it be not laid to your charge) that I am the martyr of the people."
- Charles I, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Martyr of the People

Charles I, King and Martyr, is mocked by Oliver Cromwell's
soldiers

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