What is the meaning of the bloodshed in May 1992, and what significance does it have in terms of Thai political history?
‘Rajdamnoen’, a song written by Ad Carabao after the event, says that the May uprising was ‘for the people, for Democracy’.
So the struggle against the junta’s government was for Democracy. It was a fight against military threats to the parliamentary system.
In the aftermath of the event, a series of actions was carried out in a bid to attain ‘fully-fledged’ democracy: constitutional amendments to reduce the political powers of bureaucrats, including the military, while increasing those of elected politicians, and to require that the Prime Minister must be elected and that Speaker of the House of Representatives must be the Speaker of Parliament.
Bloody May 92, therefore, has been remembered and represented as a struggle against an undemocratic regime, or a military dictatorship. In other words, it has been said to be ‘Oct 14, 1973, redux’ in Thai political history.
Nevertheless, it could hardly be associated with public sentiments and comments in light of the Sept 19, 2006, coup and the 2007 Constitution. How could one explain such a contrast? Or can this be explained simply because Thai society is always forgetful of its lessons?
In a seminar in June 2006, before the coup, Thongchai Winijjakul, a historian, proposed that the May 92 event had two representations in Thai political history.
Firstly, the May 92 represents the end of political rivalry between the military and parliamentary politics, which had started in the era of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkram when the military ruled. After Oct 14, 1973, the parliamentary politics began to gain more political significance. Coups have happened, but there has always had to be general elections shortly afterwards. The rivalry came to an end in May 1992.
Secondly, May 92 is part of the new political chemistry, an interaction between three political institutions of Money, Mass and Monarchy, or Democracy with 3 Ms, according to Thongchai.
In Democracy with 3 Ms, money politics has been a core problem that needs to be solved. Movements in Thai society since politicians tool a greater role during the administrations of Gen Prem until the political reform that resulted in the 1997 Constitution have been along this path.
Above the interaction between Money and Mass, the Monarchy has established its legitimacy above politics, and holds a moral authority revered by all sides in society.
Thongchai’s latter view of the May 92 event as part of the Democracy with 3 Ms needs to take into account more aspects, rather than considering it as merely a fight of democratic forces against dictatorship.
In the Democracy VS Dictatorship view, one could hardly understand why a number of figures who took important roles in the May event have become advocates of the Royal Prerogative, or Article 7 of the 1997 Constitution, and the Sept 19 coup.
The May 92 event needs to be understood in a different light, especially in regard to relationships between the Masses and the others. The ‘closing scene’ of the event probably sheds some light on a better understanding that ‘Democracy’ that was in great demand at the time may not be the same as what is called democracy in the West, but a polity with a Moral Ruler above politics, as a guardian to rescue the nation in crises and as the holder of supreme power.
In this regard, Democracy forged from the people’s fight against military dictatorship and money politics in the parliamentary system fits into the mould of ‘Democracy with the King as Head of State’.
Just 14 years after 1992, the advocacy of Article 7 and the Sept 19 coup derives from a particular Thai political power relationship which has rarely been explored. The May 92 movement has come to a destination which is hard to discuss.
Thai society’s perspective of its political system is therefore restricted, especially regarding the attempt to establish political institutions based on people’s power to solve conflicts and problems.
As long as the power relationship dominating Thai society is not addressed, only ‘Heaven knows who we were fighting for’ in May 1992, as the song says.