In This Review

Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand (Nias Studies in Asian Topics)
Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand (Nias Studies in Asian Topics)
Edited by Soren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager
271 pp, Nordic Inst of Asian Studies, 2010
Purchase

The contributors direct an unillusioned gaze at the mystique of the Thai monarchy. The country’s pliant news media have fostered an image of the king as a loving national father and a Buddhist quasi deity while building a cult of personality around members of the royal family. A network of conservative elites enforces a “magic circle of silence” around the court with a lese-majesty law that punishes offenders with prison sentences of up to 15 years. While popular religion venerates the king’s image as a source of prosperity, the monarch’s policy of village self-sufficiency and his sponsored development programs have only served to legitimate growing economic inequality. The monarchy positions itself as a defender of democracy, but the king allowed himself to be used as an alternative source of legitimacy by those who opposed a freely elected leader during the 2006 coup. Instead of helping consolidate national unity, the contributors argue, the royal cult increasingly polarizes Thai politics.