Monarchy’s twilight II

17 08 2012

As with the commentators in our previous post, Nicholas Farrelly at the Australia’s Inside Story comments on the decline of what the royalists call “the institution.” Okay, the story is really about Thaksin Shinawatra’s political tenacity, but the monarchy is also central.

The author points out:

In the years since then [the 2006 coup], Thailand’s military, palace, bureaucratic and judicial power brokers have remained sensitive about any discussion of the political role of the royal family. In recent years the country’s lese-majesty law, which demands harsh penalties for any perceived slights against the king or senior royals, has become newly problematic [sic.]. Since the crackdown on the Red Shirt protests of April and May 2010, anti-palace graffiti and slogans have infused rallies with radical sentiments.

Like one of the commentators we quoted in our earlier post, we think Farrelly is wrong on lese majeste under the Yingluck Shinawatra government when he claims:

Under her government, Thailand continues to lock up critics of the palace and determinedly pursues legal proceedings against any minnows who dare challenge royal prestige.

As we have said before, the rhetoric was initially strong, but the record of locking people up is miniscule when compared with the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. He is right in observing:

What Yingluck’s government knows is that the lese-majesty law holds back an avalanche of scrutiny and criticism looming over the palace. They have decided that this is not the time to unleash its destructive potential.

The perverse consequence of continuing to clamp down on critical references to the royal family is that intrigue, scuttlebutt and animosity multiply. Discussions of the most sensitive topics have not been eradicated and, like a festering wound, are left to draw attention in ways unwanted and uncomfortable.

The author then turns to Thaksin and succession:

His opponents remain preoccupied with the palace succession and the need to ensure the continuity of the Chakri dynasty. There are also those hoping to keep control of what Forbes estimates could be a $30 billion royal fortune. [PPT: It’s $37 billion at last count.]

… The $30 billion question is: what happens when … Bhumibol dies? It remains the question that nobody is prepared to touch. But if we have understood anything of Thailand’s political action since the 2006 coup then any tentative answer matters a great deal. It provides an explanation for what we have seen and what, we assume, lurks just out of sight. On everyone’s lips there is an unspoken view that things could get very bad as Thailand seeks to clarify its longer term political future.

Unresolved questions about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s reckless behaviour haunt the equation. His apparent incapacity to generate consistent popular goodwill must infuriate those pragmatic types who have sought to provide every chance for his success…. Millions of Thais have stopped believing in the official, benign portrayal of the Crown Prince.

The palace plan, we think, is unchanged; the prince steps up. The issue is whether this will unleash political forces betting on and promoting others. For the author, succession plays out for Thaksin too:

Under these circumstances the final months of 2012 are likely to see more aggressive efforts by Thaksin to return to the kingdom. He will not want to miss an opportunity to pay his final respects to King Bhumibol. It is easy to overlook Thaksin’s own royalist views and the fact that he has worked very closely with the palace and the military in the past. The coup put an end to that, but Yingluck’s words and actions have signalled that rapprochement is conceivable.

Seat belts might be required.


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18 08 2012
Taking aim at Nitirat « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] talks” in the south, Thaksin Shinawatra’s U.S. visit, continued discussion of the monarchy’s decline, Army statements on red shirt deaths, and charges against Robert Amsterdam and a translator) are […]

18 08 2012
Taking aim at Nitirat « Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] events (“peace talks” in the south, Thaksin Shinawatra’s U.S. visit, continued discussion of the monarchy’s decline, Army statements on red shirt deaths, and charges against Robert Amsterdam and a translator) are […]