Thitinan Pongsudhirak has an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal that will get some attention, not least because the author assures readers that the royalist elite has lost the battle to defeat Thaksin Shinawatra. He begins:
The Thai military, the minority Democrat Party, and monarchists clad in yellow and other colors all cannot stand the former prime minister. They have jointly kept him at bay after a military coup deposed him in September 2006. But it hasn’t worked….
Thitinan has an “unspoken truce,” where the “Yingluck government has gone out of its way not to challenge the army’s high command and to ensure the monarchy remains sacrosanct in Thailand’s hierarchical society.”
The return on this “truce” is that Yingluck “gets to rule without the crippling street protests by colorful royalists as happened in the recent past and Mr. Thaksin has to remain in exile.”
He even sees Yingluck, who has an “even-handed temperament and disarming charm” as having “endeared her to establishment figures and defused tensions between them and her brother.”
This means that “establishment figures, particularly Privy Council President Gen. Prem Tinsulanond and Army Commander in Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, have tacitly conceded their inability to put Mr. Thaksin away for good.”
On this expansion of “reconciliation for the elite,” Thitinan says that “the color-coded masses from yellows, reds and other stripes will not stand down easily.” He is right to see these as powerful social movements that “may be beyond deactivation and dismantlement.”
He then observes that “[e]stablishment figures would risk the future of the monarchy if they openly succumb to the forces of electoral democracy.” Thitinan explain that there is no open platform on which to discuss the important issues:
Yet right now, strict lese-majeste laws deter the debates Thailand needs to undertake reforms and undergo an inevitable transformation in the twilight of a 65-year reign and thereafter…. Thailand needs to bring its monarchy squarely within its constitutional confines, pre-empting future coups and extraconstitutional and extraparliamentary power plays. The best window to recalibrate the institution of the monarchy and its attendant privileges and perquisites is during the current reign when King Bhumibol Adulyadej remains popular.
The danger is that these reforms will be delayed.