Thailand in Denial

BANGKOK – Thailand’s political and social fabric is fraying. Indeed, the country’s future looks as shaky as it has never been.

In other prosperous democracies, the middle class provides the glue that holds society together. In Thailand, by contrast, the bourgeoisie, centered in Bangkok, is barely emerging as a social and political force. 

Instead, for a half-century, an unspoken social contract among four broad groups has held Thailand together: the “Palace” – a euphemism used here to avoid violating draconian lèse majesté laws; big business, the custodian of economic growth; the military, which ensures, first and foremost, the sanctity of the Palace and the moral values it represents; and the common people, mostly rural and urban poor, who accept the rule of the other three estates.

Thailand’s national mythology is that it is a happy Buddhist country, a “land of smiles” bound together by compassion and harmony under the benevolent grace and blessings of the Palace and the generosity of big business. The less fortunate classes are docile, content to accept their subservient roles and satisfied with the social welfare, no matter how skimpy, provided by their betters.