The future of Wat Ratha Dharma Nun has been cast into further question by the discovery of yet more grisly evidence of corpses of democracy and apparent links to the shadowy world of international dictatorship trafficking.
The so-called ‘Constitution Temple’ has for years carried on the business of parading ‘live’ democratic ideals which foreign tourists could view for 500 baht a head. For an extra payment, tourists could ‘feed’ baby human rights with a special pabulum produced by the temple. They could even have their photographs taken with the head of a fully-grown constitution lying in their lap, again for an extra fee.
Critics, however, have long argued that the temple was a fraud, and that what was being touted as ‘democracy’ was in fact just a sanitized version of the real thing, possibly drugged by monks and temple attendants. Far from its claims of ‘conserving’ democracy and democratic principles, the temple was accused of furthering the cause of totalitarianism.
It is believed that the temple’s activities began years ago when local villagers donated to the abbot the results of the first local government elections after the promulgation of the 1997 Constitution. Never before having had the chance to practice real democracy at the village level, they were unsure about what to do with the results and thought that the local abbot, with his long experience of running the temple as an absolute dictatorship, would be a suitable person to nurture their infant democratic institutions.
Over the years, the number of democratic ideals that the temple was supposedly taking care of grew exponentially. Its sphere of operations expanded, apparently illegally, and it attracted the patronage of many high-ranking members of the Bangkok elite, none of them previously known to be strong supporters of democratic governance.
A large number of well-meaning but misguided foreigners provided cheap labour for the temple, writing favourable reviews on TripAdvisor and sending scathing letters to the English-language press whenever the temple’s credentials as a haven for democracy were questioned.
While the temple’s aura of sanctity allowed it to operate without any official interference, it now seems that it was all the time exploiting its unofficial impunity. Behind the scenes, it was engaged in practices which were the exact opposite of what it pretended to be.
The first serious questions to be raised concerned a document was produced by the temple that purported to be a constitution that would enshrine democratic principles in the way the country was governed. But when experts came to scrutinize it closely, it turned out to be a thinly disguised attempt to perpetuate military rule.
Suspicions were raised even further when a law to govern a referendum on this constitution was worded so vaguely that it seemed that all discussion of the draft charter was made illegal. With public concern growing, officials raided the temple to save any democratic principles or human rights that might still be alive. During the operation to remove the captive rights and freedoms to safety, officials made a number of disturbing discoveries.
In a freezer they found the corpses of a number of baby rights. Officials were at a loss to explain why they had died or why their corpses had been kept. ‘They could have grown into strong, healthy human rights and we don’t really know why they were strangled at birth,’ said one. ‘It is even more puzzling why the remains were stored.’
One explanation offered itself when two temple workers and a monk were later arrested trying to flee with a truckload of amulets. These talismans, made from the remains of dead human rights, are highly prized in totalitarian markets. Dictators believe that wearing such charms will keep democracy at bay.
This seems to point to a highly lucrative underground trade with authoritarian governments in the region. The increasingly friendly relations between Thailand and countries like China and North Korea may be connected to this trade.
Outside observers, while heartened by the exposure of the temple’s wrongdoings, are still unsure that democracy has been saved. ‘We don’t really know where the captive rights and freedoms have been taken,’ said one. ‘We fear that instead of being set free in Thai society, they will again by detained somewhere.’
Others point to the fact that the abbot has disappeared since the day before the raid took place and is still at large. Phra Meechai Ruchupanno is now suspected of a lifelong involvement in peddling discredited and defanged pseudo-democratic ideas. Until he and his acolytes can be properly investigated, there are concerns that he may reappear at some time in the future to once again thwart any development toward democracy in Thailand.
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).