Thai student activists have lambasted the government for what they said are persistent attempts by authorities to rewrite Thai history. Scores of students staged a rally in central Bangkok on June 24 to commemorate the 88th anniversary of the Siamese Revolution in 1932, during which a group of reformist citizens formed the People’s Party, the country’s very first political party, and managed to overthrow the absolute monarchy. A small group of activists followed up with another protest on June 25 by dressing up in period uniforms and re-enacting the toppling of absolutist royal rule outside Parliament House in Bangkok. The events of 1932 were a watershed in Thai history as it led to the creation of parliamentary democracy, at least in principle, and the country’s first constitution. Yet the government, led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief who ousted a democratically elected government in a coup in 2014, decided to celebrate the so-called Boworadet Rebellion of 1933.
That rebellion saw a royalist faction led by Prince Boworadet launch a violent attack on the new government in October that year in an abortive bid to restore the absolute monarchy. In a statement Prayut’s government called the 1932 revolution “a coup to destroy the monarchy” and lauded Prince Boworadet as a “hero” of the nation. The Thai Royal Army, meanwhile, honored the royalist rebels by holding a private yet widely publicized Buddhist merit-making ceremony for their souls at the army’s headquarters in Bangkok on June 24. Students say such anti-democratic posturing is in line with the conservative government’s political agenda, which seeks to portray pro-democratic forces of the past and present as enemies of the nation. “In school we were barely taught anything about 1932 and what we were taught showed [the leaders of the revolution] in a bad light,” a young activist who studies at Bangkok’s prestigious Chulalongkorn University told a UCA News reporter during the protest. Other students voiced similar views, saying that the teaching of history in Thai schools was highly selective and one-sided. “Young people are not supposed to know the real facts so that they can feed us lies,” said a student at Mahidol University, another prestigious institution in Bangkok. “It is very sad that after 88 years we still lack even basic democratic freedoms. In some ways we are no better off than our great-grandparents were,” the student activist added. Since 1932, Thailand has seen nearly 20 military coups and as many constitutions, many of which, including the current one, have been highly undemocratic. Over the past nine decades, the country has had 29 prime ministers, 11 of whom were military dictators while many others were closely allied with the military-royalist establishment. In Thailand “a civilian government exits at the mercy of the military,” Voranai Vanijaka, a prominent columnist, argued in an op-ed published in a Bangkok-based online publication. “If a civilian government doesn’t conform, it meets the fate of a military coup,” he added. “So when we [speak of] ‘88 years of Thai democracy,’ at best it’s an illusion [and] at worst it’s an outright lie.”
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