In a previous article I penned an overly broad crash course into Thai politics. Given that this is a language blog I skipped quite a lot of the details, covering only the main gist of things. The core causes of the political conflict are many, ranging from class discrimination, racial discrimination, economic disparity, poor education, corruption, power plays, government over-centralization, and even blind hatred. Some observers simplistically blame it all on Thaksin, some social ill, or the King himself. You can find many articles and even entire books covering these various issues – so I won’t.
Instead, we’ll discuss the extremely taboo and very much illegal topic of royal succession. Who will be the next King? No Thai will publicly talk about the next King, as they are extremely emotional over the subject and it could result in years of imprisonment without trial (the infamous Article 112). Ask a Thai on who should be the next King, and they’ll immediately squirm in discomfort.
Before the end of 2013, the Palace was always extremely influential in Thai politics, often ordering/approving military coups and such while profiting in the process. While the King pulled strings quietly for plausible deniability, the Queen and more recently a daughter have been more public about their approval for coups and military crackdowns. But today the King has been mentally incapacitated due to old age, while the Queen recently suffered from a permanent mentally debilitating stroke. On rare occasion the King and Queen are wheeled out into semi-public settings and PR photographs are released to quell biannual rumors of their death. But, their influence is over.
image: current King and Queen of Thailand
Now that the King and Queen are out of the picture, why do these royalist anti-election protests still persist? The reality is that the King’s inner circle is still pulling strings, and they fear the day when the King dies. For the last 20 years the crown Prince and the Kings inner circle have been at odds. As the Prince has his own inner circle, with succession will come a purge. Most Thais do not like the Prince either (for reasons I won’t go in to), so it will have a severe negative effect on the credibility and influence of the future crown when he takes over. The whole royalist world as they know it will come crashing down.
image: crown prince of Thailand
Yet, the law clearly states the Prince must be the next king.
The inner circle has an obvious solution, and that is to legally change who can become King to someone that can be controlled (some say the current King is also controlled by this inner circle). The three things needed to make this happen are implicit approval from the military, legal approval from the Privy Council, and a law change by Parliament. While the appointed military and Privy Council are under the inner circle control, elections determine who runs Parliament. Given the King is practically on his death bed, there isn’t much time remaining to change the succession law. That means desperation.
image: Suthep, leader of 2013/2014 street protests
Enter protest leader Suthep, a royalist and ex-executive leader of the Democrat Party. Ironically, Suthep is a political godfather previously known for personally ordering three violent military crackdowns against protesters in 2009 and 2010, resulting in nearly 100 deaths and 3000 injured total. He is attempting to force the current government to step down and hand all governmental powers to his appointed “peoples council” composed of only “good people.” As proposed, his council will retain power for ~18 months to “reform” the country and then allow elections afterwards. Proponents say his “reform before elections” proposal will cure corruption and make elections fair, but opponents say Suthep has a long history of corruption and is only trying to rig elections.
Why does this matter? He will have the power to rewrite the succession law.
|พระเจ้าอยู่หัว||praH jaoF yuuL huaR||king|
|สภาประชาชน||saLpaaM braMchaaMchonM||Peoples Council|
|คณะองคมนตรี||kaHnaH ongMkaHmonMdtreeM||Privy Council|
|การเลือกตั้ง||gaanM lueakF dtangF||elections|
|คนดี||konM deeM||“good people”|
|ปฏิรูปก่อนเลือกตั้ง||baLdtiLruupF gawnL lueakF dtangF||“reform before elections”|