ABOUT THE SEMINAR
It will be argued that the country’s political turmoil since 2006 is essentially the crisis of royal democracy triggered by the challenge from electoral democracy and the looming end of the Bhumibol era. The prospect of royal democracy and the possibility of praetoriansim will also be discussed.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Thongchai Winichakul is Professor of History at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His first book, Siam Mapped (1994) was awarded the Harry J Benda Prize from the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) in 1995, and the Grand Prize from the Asian Affairs Research Council (Japan) in 2004. He was a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Award in 1994 and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003. He was a former President of the AAS in 2013/14. His research interests are in the intellectual foundation of modern Siam (1880s-1930s) including nationalism, modern geography and cartography, and historical knowledge. He also publishes articles and books of political and social commentaries in Thai. As Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, he worked on the concept of ‘royal democracy’ in Thailand.
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Seminar: The Perils of Power: Thailand’s Anti-Democratic Elites and the Challenge of Replacing Dictatorship with a Constitutional Regime
THAILAND STUDIES PROGRAMME
ABOUT THE SEMINAR
Despite repeating his reluctance to remain in power, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s Prime Minister and National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta, appears to be in no hurry to leave office. The rejection of the draft constitution by the junta-appointed National Reform Council in early September has effectively delayed the next general election until mid-2017 at the earliest. This was possibly due to the junta’s realization that the charter would likely to fail to win approval in a referendum, as Thailand’s two major political parties had made clear their objections to its contents. The junta will now need time to arrange for the formulation of a new constitution.
In the meantime, the junta has revived suppressive measures against its critics. Public discontent with the NCPO, however, continues to grow because basic human rights are curbed and the economy hasfailed to improve. Adding to these factors is the Thai authorities’ handling of the Bangkok shrine bomb blast in August, which has further eroded Thailand’s international credibility. The national police chief finally admitted that the blast was linked to the Thai government’s forced deportation of Uighurs to China. Thais have thus begun to realize that the military government’s poor handling of diplomatic and security matters has put Thailand at risk from transnational terrorism.
This seminar will argue that the prolongation of the NCPO’s time in office has, together with growing public discontent, become a challenge to the junta rather than an opportunity for it to consolidate the power. For the junta and the old establishment, making the successful transition from a junta regime to one founded on a constitution that will allow elite domination of a majoritarian electoral system with a degree of legitimacy appears to be increasingly difficult.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Puangthong R Pawakapan is Associate Professor in the International Relations Department, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University. Her recent publication is State and Uncivil Society in Thailand at the Temple of Preah Vihear, published by Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore, 2013. She was Visiting Senior Fellow at Thailand Studies Programme at ISEAS from July 2014-January 2015. Between August 2010-June 2011, she was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center, Stanford University, when she researched on the territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the Preah Vihear Temple. Between May 1998-1999, she was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Cambodian Genocide Program, Yale University, where she wrote “Thailand’s Response the Genocidal Regime”, in Sue Cook (ed.), Genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda: New Perspectives, (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 2006).
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Seminar: Spirits of Power in 21st Century Thailand: Magic and the Supernatural at the Centre of Political Authority in Thailand
THAILAND STUDIES PROGRAMME SEMINAR
ABOUT THE SEMINAR
Since the 1980s, a wide range of new supernatural movements have become highly visible additions to Thailand’s spiritual landscape and religious marketplaces. Seeking supernatural intervention to achieve success, wealth, power and influence, these movements have continued to grow in popularity despite the setback of the 1997 Asian economic crisis and the intense political conflicts that have destabilised Thai society over the past decade. Since the turn of the new century, these cults have moved rapidly from the socio-cultural margins to the centre of national religious practice, being incorporated within state projects under the aegis of Theravada Buddhism.
While there is a growing anthropological literature on the resurgence of supernatural cults in Thailand, and also in Myanmar and Vietnam, political studies have largely overlooked the significance of this phenomenon, with most current research on politics and religion in Asia focusing on the rise of fundamentalist movements in Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Even within anthropology and religious studies, theories of the resurgence of the supernatural in post-Cold War Southeast Asia remain partial, failing to account fully account for why elites in ostensibly “globalising” Asian societies employ new forms of supernaturalism in their contests for influence and power.
To understand how modernity may entail, perhaps even produce, “reenchantment” and how supernatural cults have become central to the exercise of political authority in 21st century Thailand will require interdisciplinary conversations among anthropology, religious studies, cultural studies, history and political studies.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Peter A. Jackson is Professor in Thai history and cultural studies in the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific and over the past 30 years he has written extensively on modern Thai cultural history, with special interests in religion, sexuality and critical approaches to Asian histories and cultures. Peter Jackson was editor-in-chief of Asian Studies Review, flagship journal of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, from 2009 to 2012 and he is currently a member of the editorial collective of Hong Kong University Press’s Queer Asia monograph series.
ABOUT THE DISCUSSANT
Thongchai Winichakul is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
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