In recent times there has been some debate about the nature of the decade-old political crisis in Thailand amongst commentators on social media. Some argue that the crisis is all about royal succession and a contest over that. Others argue that the crisis is better understood as a long-term political and historical struggle over the nature of Thailand’s politics that goes beyond the succession issue.
PPT, with its interest in lese majeste and monarchy, is naturally interested in all of the rumors and discussion about succession. That said, we also see the anxiety surrounding succession as just one, albeit very important, indicator of the the deep social roots of the current crisis.
Certainly, as we noted a couple of months ago, there does seem to be some succession planning underway. That account reported of the transfer of a “unit of elite soldiers, the Royal Security Command,” to “the authority of the Defence Ministry in its administrative streamlining of protective duties for the royal family.”
As we briefly noted a while ago, Matichon has reported a Government Gazette announcement of a consolidation of troops to Prince Vajiralongkorn’s personal command. Google Translate does a reasonable job of this announcement that shows the Prince preparing for the bigger role. More interestingly, the prince now has command of some seven regiments that are said to be providing protection for the aged king and queen. The presumed political position of the prince was also noted in our earlier post.
This news of the Gazette announcement has caused some interest. On Facebook, succession-in-chief protagonist Andrew MacGregor Marshall has taken the opportunity to refer to the prince’s role in the 6 October 1976 massacre and coup, with attention drawn to a British cable that uses rumor and talk from Australia to indicate that the prince’s return to Thailand was coincidental with those horrendous events.
PPT doubts that this memorandum should be taken too seriously. At the time, the British, Americans and Australians all seemed to want to downplay the significance of the events around Thammasat University and the deep political involvement of the monarchy in mobilizing rabid royalists against those seen as enemies of the throne. Those countries, like the king in Thailand, were deeply disturbed by events in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, and wanted to shore up Thailand as the bastion of anti-communism on the mainland of Southeast Asia.
The imagery of the prince was well-used by rightists in justifying their attack on the students as “protecting” the monarchy. As noted in the cable, the prince had indeed returned suddenly from a brief stint with the Australian SAS in Perth, just prior to the coup. After the coup, the prince and his younger sisters gave their support to the rightists.
But back to the succession “crisis.” If there is such a crisis, it has been a very long one. Back in 1981, the Far Eastern Economic Review alluded to a kind of competition between the prince and Sirindhorn.
The “crisis” was also a part of another FEER article in 1988, this time by none other than the princeling Sukhumphand Paribatra. His article is available for download at PPT’s Lese Majeste and the Monarchy page, identified at present with a “new” label. In that piece, which was produced after a bunch of anti-prince leaflets were circulated (also available at that PPT page), expressed the concerns. The beginning of the article explains “apprehension” regarding succession. At the time of writing, Sukhumbhand was concerned that civilian politics was weak and in crisis and he was seeing that this opened the way for a military intervention.
Later, the article states:
Given the monarchy’s role in Thailand’s political and economic development, as well as its place in the hearts and minds of the populace, any uncertainty regarding the future of the monarch inevitably causes a great deal of apprehension. Doubts continue to be expressed, mostly in private but now increasingly in the open, about the crown prince’s capacity to evoke the kind of intense political loyalty from the people and the major domestic political power groupings that his father is able to do. Doubts also persist as to whether the crown prince can match his father’s subtle and mediatory role in politics.
Some of this is blarney, but the point is that the speculation about the prince and succession has been around for a very long time. We would have thought that if there was serious disputation regarding succession that there had been plenty of opportunities for some kind of intervention to move the prince aside or out of the picture.
In any case, it seems that Vajiralongkorn is doing his due diligence on succession, preparing for the day when he gets the crown.