CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY AND LAO IN THE 21st CENTURY
This article was contributed to Laosfreedom.com
The role played by the monarchy in Lao's history is well documented. When Lao was plaqued by in-fighting during the three-kingdoms era: Luangprabang, Viengchanh and Champasak, King Fa Ngum united our people. When Lao was under Siam's control, the house of Luang Prabang sought the French' assistance to free us from 200 years of Siam's control. When thirty years of civil unrest threatens to divide of nation, the King chose to abdicate to save us from becoming another "Korea." After 25 years, there might still be a role for the monarchy to play in Lao's life and politics. Even the so-called Constitution of the Lao PDR recites the glory of King Fa Ngum in its Preamble. Despite the chaos, confusion and bloodshed in Lao's history, the monarchy always have been and, perhaps forever will be, etched in the every heart and soul of Lao nationalists and the people as part of our cultural identity.
In the last foreign visit in 1974, His Majesty the King Srisavang Vathana told the King of Thailand---Bhumibhol Adulyadej---that he will be the last King of a six hundred year old dynasty. This warning, although told in a private conversation, reverberated throughout the world in private memoirs and historical reflections. His Majesty Srisavang Vathana's setting sun only bid farewell to his people during their soul searching journey. A journey that one day shall end with an awakening to greet the new dawn of a new era for Lao. He cried as he delivered his abdication speech. Lao is a peaceful nation, but had never seen peace. We never invaded its neighbors, but have long been kept under subjugation. When Lao is not attacked by foreign powers, we fought amongst ourselves. Our great nation has been ravaged by enemies from outside, as well as from within. For more than thirty years, we have been fighting. If my abdication shall bring peace, being just a citizen I shall become. Other monarchs, such as Norodom Sihanouk fled the country and sought outside assistance; however, our King remained with his people. 'I have sworn to protect them and to die with them,' he would later told his visitors. Our King was a great philosopher. He liked to quote Faust and other great philosophical works. In the 1950s when Norodom Sihanouk visited Lao, Sihanouk would later wrote in his memoire that the King of Lao was a grand intellectual of Southeast Asia. The strongest political speech he ever uttered was his willingness to go quietly into prison in the name of "re-education"----the world would never cease to make the world wonder what can the Lao communist offer to teach a King who reads Faust, Laviathan, Social Contract, etc. that would be so edifying. Twenty-five years after the event, after careful reflection, his rationale was that the monarchy was a symbol of Lao. The King is the people. For the communist to imprison the monarch, to his thinking----I trust that my conjecture is sound---the government will send a loud and clear message to the world that they are robbing the Lao people of liberty. After all, the monarchy is the reflection of the Lanxang Kingdom; its people and all that is Lao. This willingness to die for the people is the ultimate sacrifice worthy of martyrdom. However, the world, still stunned by the defeat of Vietnam, turned their eyes and ears elsewhere. France, who was once our "protector" abandoned us; the American, who was once our allied, retreated in defeat. Thailand, who stood by our side, kept a distance and was coward into silence. Our King, queen and the crown prince languid in prison until their demise. Will we never see such a benevolent and self-sacrificed monarch again?
It took Lao more than 1000 years to reshape the monarchy to the glory of Chao Fa Ngum, it should take us less than 50 years to revive the thread that binds so many hearts and souls of Lao. The surviving members of the Lao monarchy shoulders a remarkable burden if it wants a role in the new era in Lao no sooner dawning in our landlocked homeland. They must work single mindedly to unite our people both inside and outside of Lao. There is a role for every Lao citizen to play in reconstructing the country. Members of the Lao royal family must forever be guided by the precept that they are also Lao citizens before and above all else. Ranks, honors, and titles retain their meaning and glory so long as the people who confers them still believe they are worthy of homage. Self sacrifice, not selfish pronouncement, shall be the guiding light for the surviving members of the Lao royalty. If their desire is militated by the quest for democracy, their call to the people will be answered. However, if their actions are guided by the glory of the throne, they will surely invite harsh criticism and the home for them to play any constructive role in politics will never be realized.
The surviving members of the Lao royal family know the price of freedom as they had, like so many of us, tasted the cruelty of exile. In an age of new thinking, the idea of infusing old institution into the life of Lao and its people seems daunting, but I beg to counsel that they remain vigilant in calling for a peaceful change and restoration of Lao to its formal glory. It is only when we embrace our past that we can better focus on our future. The Lao people know too well the price of liberty for we have lived a life under tyranny. But on every heart of a Lao person born, God had stamped upon it the great seal of freedom. This people is a race that can never be enslaved. The Siam tried it and failed. The French attempted it and did not succeed. Something less potent and transient bound such as communism will surely soon be defeated if only we have the patience. This truth, no matter how brutal, must also be accepted by our surving royalty. The throne, if their desire for the return of a constitutional monarchy necessitates their action in public affairs, shall come after the nation and people.
Like the lost tribes of Judea scattered and wandered in all corners of the globe, our Lao brethrens will soon unite under one great white parasol and sing the hymn of old a nation of the million elephants.
There are those who advocate no role for the monarchy; a republican form of government should be the call of the day. They remind us of the absence of the monarchy from the scene for a quarter of a century and invite us to see how better our people fared in Lao without a king nor queen. Today there are more roads, more hospitals, and the standard of living among our Lao brethrens increase significantly compared to the dark days under the monarchy. They equate kingship to feudalism. To those timid souls I say "yes, but at what price...?" Thailand remains a strong nation because of its monarch and peace returned to Cambodia because of the tireless efforts of its king. The Lao royalty of today might be of a different breed of those of yesterday; they should be. Would they not?
An advocation for the return of a constitutional monarchy is not a sign of desperation nor an admission of defeat. The role to be played by the monarchy should be one that shall bind the people together; acting as a symbol of unity for the Lao people inside and outside of Lao. If, however, the call by the royalty themselves, is militated by personal glory, Lao can do better without them. This stern admonition they must take to heart.
The road ahead has many challenges for the Lao royalty. If it wants to remain active in public affairs, it must guard against excesses, misdirection and self-idolation. Through every fiber of its body, it must maintain full composure and direct its attention towards a single purpose of uniting our people to build a stronger nation. A nation that speaks in a single voice can move mountains; a country marked by discords cannot even manage a mole hill.