The mystery of the missing democracy symbol

Picture of brass plaque of which was removed in Bangkok in April 2017Image copyright
Nick Nostitz

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The plaque, seen here in a file picture, was occasionally decorated with flowers by activists

For more than 80 years a little brass plaque, no larger than a dinner plate, sat embedded from the tarmac in front of Bangkok’s Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, worn down after being driven over countless of times by traffic.

Very few Thais even knew of its existence, apart through dedicated pro-democracy activists who could occasionally clean the plaque or decorate the idea with flowers.

Yet the plaque can be one of the very few monuments to mark the most significant moment in modern Thai history.

In June 1932, a revolution overthrew 700 years of absolute monarchy in addition to a constitutional political structure, requiring non-royal governments elected by the people, was introduced.

Four-in addition to-a-half years later, one of the leaders of of which uprising in addition to the first post-revolution prime minister Phraya Phahol held a little ceremony, embedding the plaque into the ground at the spot where he had first announced the end of the absolute monarchy.

The inscription on the idea read: “Here on 24 June 1932 at dawn, the People’s Party produced a constitution for the country’s prosperity.”

Earlier of which month two teams of students through Thammasat University, which was founded by one of the leaders of the revolution, were sent by their professor to study the plaque.

The first group, on 2 April, found the idea intact. A second group who visited the idea on 8 April discovered of which the idea had been replaced.

Neatly cemented from the same spot was a brand new plaque, having a different message: “To worship the Buddhist trinity, one’s own state, one’s own family, in addition to to have a heart faithful to your monarch, will bring prosperity to the country”.

The same inscription surrounds the Chakri Star, a symbol of the reigning dynasty in Thailand.

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The brand new plaque was installed in early April

Unsurprisingly there has been an uproar, as pro-democracy activists, historians in addition to social media commentators have protested against of which apparent violation of a piece of Thailand’s historic heritage.

of which was no casual act of vandalism.

A fringe, ultra-royalist group had threatened to remove the plaque last year, although given the location, the idea seems unlikely even they could dare carry out their threat without significant official backing.

Deliberate snub

The instigators of the 1932 revolution had chosen the location for their early morning announcement with care. Symbols, in addition to locations, have always mattered in Thai power politics.

Royal Plaza was the dramatic entrance to the brand new district of Dusit, built by Thailand’s greatest absolute monarch, Chulalongkorn, as a more modern centre of royal power, away through the glittering palaces by the river.

the idea marks the end of Ratchadamnoen Avenue, the grand royal boulevard connecting the two districts, in addition to can be dominated by a large statue of King Chulalongkorn astride a horse.

The little brass plaque, stuck right next to the statue, was a deliberate snub, by a government determined to curb, or even end, royal power.

Image copyright
AFP/Getty Images

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The plaque was embedded from the road near the statue

although they failed. During the long reign of King Bhumibol, which ended with his death last October, royal power in addition to prestige were restored to levels unknown since the days of absolute kings.

Royal Plaza remains a potent symbol of the monarchy’s elevated status.

The brand new King Vajiralongkorn chose the imposing throne hall to host an elaborate formal ceremony, unseen in almost half a century, on 6 April, giving his royal approval to a brand new constitution drafted by Thailand’s military rulers.

  • Thailand’s brand new King Vajiralongkorn in profile
  • How King Bhumibol shaped modern Thailand

Photographs published from the Thai media suggest the plaque was removed on the night before of which ceremony.

The reaction of the Thai authorities to the theft has left people perplexed. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha dismissed the idea as unimportant.

“What Great will the idea do to demand its return?” he responded to journalists, adding warnings not to organise protests about the plaque.

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Nuttaa Mahattana (left) in addition to Apisit Sapnaphaphan (right) are among several pro-democracy activists questioning the plaque’s disappearance

The police insisted they could not investigate the disappearance because they did not know who owned the plaque. The deputy police chief even suggested of which the idea had originally been put illegally in Royal Plaza, even though the idea was done by the government of the day.

One activist who turned up at Royal Plaza to protest was detained; an opposition politician, who posted of which the plaque was a national asset in addition to should be protected by law, can be being charged under the tough Computer Crimes Act.

Two more who filed a complaint to the local police were warned not to go there, in addition to instead bussed to Bangkok City Hall, where they were told of which all 11 CCTV cameras from the area had been removed days before the plaque was taken.

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The brand new plaque was guarded by several Thai policemen when the BBC visited of which week

For a few hours a fence was erected around the brand new plaque to stop people photographing the idea, until the police realised the idea was a hazard to traffic, in addition to took the idea down.

Subject of debate

Because 1932 was such a pivotal moment in Thai history, the idea has long been the subject of debate among the country’s main political factions, each aiming to co-opt the event to enhance its own legitimacy.

Some of the language used by the leaders of the uprising was stridently critical of the monarchy. the idea could hardly be republished right now, under the exceptionally harsh interpretation of the lese majeste law used by today’s military government.

although very quickly the uprising’s leaders decided they needed the endorsement of their brand new regime by then-King Prajadhipok, softening their proposals to limit royal powers from the constitution they finalised by the end of 1932.

Relations between the two remained tense, having a failed royalist uprising in 1933 leading to the king eventually abdicating two years later.

of which chaotic start to Thailand’s first attempt at democracy has allowed royalists to present the idea more as a gift through a caring monarchy, in addition to for democrats in addition to republicans to present democracy as something of which must stem through the will of the people.

In many ways, Thailand’s recent political turmoil reflects a debate over the true source of political legitimacy from the country which has never been settled.

So whoever removed the little brass plaque, with its brief homage to the first “people’s constitution”, was sending a message, or adjusting the symbolic balance in Royal Plaza.

The evasive responses of the government in addition to police show the idea can be a very sensitive matter of which they are reluctant to investigate.

They are producing the idea clear they will not tolerate anyone else investigating the missing piece of history either.

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