Trying to keep political history alive is no easy task, particularly when the state is bent on making people forget.
On Thursday, a group of 500 demonstrators, many of them young, staged a demonstration to remember the June 24, 1932 revolt which ended absolute monarchy.
Despite the fact that this is one of the most important dates on modern Thai political history calendar, or Thai calendar in general, there was no official commemoration by any government agencies.
It’s as if the revolt had never occurred, or the vast majority of the Thai population suffer from mass amnesia and unable to remember that June 24 was once Thai National Day that was celebrated nationwide – like the Bastille Day in France or the 4th of July in the United States.
Amnesia didn’t occur by chance, however. The expanding de facto power of the monarchy towards the end of the reign of King Rama IX and under the current king, Rama X, means it’s no longer fashionable for anyone who wants to appear loyal to the throne and be a conservative to talk about the day absolute monarchy was overthrown.
‘Strange’ incidents like the mysterious removal of the plaque which marked the revolt at dawn on June 24 four years ago was but one example. A year later, another monument marking the defeat of a royalist counter-coup in 1933 also joined the list of ‘deleted history’ when it was even more mysteriously removed in late December 2015, despite its sheer size that’s roughly equivalent to a four-storey building.
This was eventually met with the birth of the monarchy-reform movement that began last year. Many of these demonstrators, some who took to the streets Thursday despite the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 (and blamed as being irresponsible, public-health wise), are young people from late teens to those in their early twenties.
Social media, which boosted the learning process about the removed history and topics related to June 24, enjoy a renewed and wide readership among these youth as they learn about the past that some thought was more advanced in some respect than the present Thai society that they inhabit. The Thai media, for example, enjoyed more freedom to criticize the monarchy back in the 1930s to the 1950s until Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat dictatorship restored the role and power of the monarchy in the early 1960s.
The new generation wants to finish the task of realizing a genuine democracy and making sure that the monarchy is strictly under the constitution and nothing more. And June 24 memories, once a National Day, is crucial in reminding the public that the task is unfinished.
They will need to convince millions more to join them in keeping not just the historical memories alive. This can be best done by making democracy relevant and not a revolving feast for the political class and coup makers.
The project of realizing genuine democracy and monarchy reform can start with a new people’s constitution.
Pushing for a new people’s constitution is a good start to build a broader coalition and this requires engaging with more people beyond the converts. Protest leaders, reformers, and demonstrators will have to leave their self-congratulatory echo chamber that gathers like-minded people, online or offline.
Winning more hearts means being less rigid and less polarized as a new charter can never be realized if more than half of the voters do not approve such a project in the referendum.
You cannot get more people to remember a shared history if they don’t feel it’s relevant to them or want to take ownership. Making Thailand more equal, free, and democratic is a goal that more people can relate to if framed convincingly.
Beyond the street protests, perhaps a few millions are on the protesters’ side on social media. That’s still far from the nearly 70 million Thais. The monarchy reform movement has made their point over the past year. Now it’s time to push some of their agendas forward into something concrete by winning the hearts of those who may not fully agree, or disagree, through compromise and flexibility.
A grand coalition is needed to push for a more democratic charter. More people need to be convinced that June 24 is worth remembering and celebrating. The best way to do it is by making the past relevant to the present.