Thailand’s political blues

16 05 2015

Stanley Weiss, a global mining executive and the founder of  Business Executives for National Security. This is one of those quintessentially American combines of security, big business and former well-linked government officials brought together in a Washington-based “think” tank and policy lobby group. Weiss has an op-ed on Thailand at the Huffington Post. It is interesting for its reflection of thinking amongst these groups in Washington and for the comments on the elite in Bangkok and its considerations on politics.

He begins his musings, apparently from Bangkok, with the cliched image of the king’s first trip to the U.S., as General Sarit Thanarat enlisted the young king in a Cold War PR exercise for the military dictatorship. The king “and his family visited Disneyland and rubbed elbows with Elvis, Bob Hope, and Lucille Ball.” Then they went to Washington for the Cold War allies stuff.

But Weiss reckons the best bit was the kings “jam” with jazz musicians “Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, and other jazz greats.” We have previously mentioned some assessments of the king’s alleged talents, with the most critical being from Buddy Rich.

So Weiss’s claim that the king’s “knack for improvisation has served him well — on stage and on the throne” might be suspect, but it is something of a rhetorical device for the op-ed that looks at politics and succession: “When the music stops and the world’s longest-serving monarch is gone, what — or who — will fill the void?”

The obvious response and it has been made for years since at least the late 1970s,  is that “Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, whom the king declared, in 1972, to be his successor. But the prince — an infamous playboy — is as scorned…”. The alternative, also spoken of for years, is Sirindhorn. Weiss reveals that some members of the Thai elite believe that “now that the law of succession has been amended to allow the king to choose any of his children.”

We are not sure that this is factually correct. Perhaps he means the constitution? But then, back in late 2014, there was discussion of the law being altered. There was also a fake succession announcement. Can any reader enlighten us as to whether the puppet National Legislative Assembly passed a revised law to parliament and had it promulgated? Have we missed something as significant as this? Or is it PPT’s aged memory suffering loss?

Weiss then claims to have spoken with “a Thailand expert” about succession. The response was about how to keep the prince off the throne:  “There are many ways around it,” while adding: “It’s very important who is the prime minister at the time of the succession.” That is the essentially the argument put by Andrew Marshall, and it is said that “who sits on the throne is merely a proxy for a larger fight.”

That larger fight is the well-known struggle between voters “who support the populist policies of the self-made billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister” and the “revolution” he unleashed by providing some Thais a view that saw “a rural sense of exclusion from government.”

A “banker and member of the Bangkok elite” is then cited: “Thaksin, despite his faults, is one of the few that progressed democracy in Thailand…. Thaksin brought awareness of the value of the vote.” Few of the royalist elite would agree, yet Thaksin did create a demand for some voice via the ballot box.

The usual claims that Thaksin represented vote buying via “policy corruption” is repeated from a “Thai journalist.” Yet Weiss seems to agree that when Yingluck Shinawatra was impeached by “legislators in the military-stacked assembly later voted to impeach Yingluck for ‘dereliction of duty’ over the rice subsidy,” it was the end of democracy and rule of law. He cites analyst David Merkel who “dryly notes” that this move was “akin to impeaching a U.S. president over an ethanol subsidy, pork barrel spending, or a dairy program…”.

He says the 2014 coup was “a power play by Bangkok’s elite” to ensure that “traditional royalists, and the military, are running the country when the king dies…”. That seems reasonable, although we think there were plenty of other reasons why the brass intervened.

Weiss cites “a Thai investment banker” asking if “the change in the monarchy … [will] force the country to grow up?” PPT thinks this is a good question. However, a better question is whether the military will ever allow Thailand to maturer politically? To do that, it has to relinquish its desire to intervene. Yet it is such a corrupt and murderous clique that it fears letting anyone else engage in “reform.”

The king claimed to play jazz. Thailand sings the political blues.



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