That is part of a headline in the New York Times for an article by Thomas Fuller on the king’s declining health. The article will certainly anger the military junta and rabid royalists.
It will be especially galling as the article quotes persons identified by the junta as “anti-monarchy.”
The article begins:
After nearly seven decades on the throne, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, the keystone of Thailand’s identity and a major unifying force for the country, is in declining health. With increasing frequency, the palace has issued medical bulletins detailing his ailments, and in recent days his youngest daughter has led prayer sessions following a Buddhist rite normally used for terminally ill patients.
PPT doesn’t think the king unifies, unless this means a murderous alliance with the military, palace propaganda and rightist vigilantism.
That line of buying the propaganda and repression continues: “While reverence for the king was once the only thing that this fractured country could agree on, today the future of the Thai monarchy is uncertain.”
That’s also untrue, and there is plenty of history to demonstrate that there has always been opposition to the monarchy.
The article talks of the prince:
The king’s heir apparent, the jet-setting crown prince, has a reputation as a playboy and faces an uphill battle to win the trust and adoration his father has achieved. Many Thais hoped that Princess Sirindhorn, the crown prince’s sister, who has won hearts through her charitable causes and dealings with the poor, might succeed her father, but palace law bars women from the throne.
The prince gave up trying to emulate his father years ago and left the space for his sister to fill. She’s been the center of the (almost) post-Bhumibol propaganda, and has benefited from limited scrutiny. The prince seems to not care for this limelight. Meanwhile, the military junta has been cleaning up for his succession, sorting out his personal inconveniences by jailing his former wife’s family and replacing her with a woman who will probably be queen.
The article has a link to six recent lese majeste cases, noting that the law restricts discussion of succession and the future of the monarchy. Even so, the article refers to a “growing underground republican movement…”. The article states that:
The republican movement was precipitated in part by the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra, a business tycoon turned populist politician whose influence and popularity in rural areas were seen as threats to the royal establishment and Bangkok’s urban elite.
It quotes Sulak Sivaraksa:
The current anti-monarchy movement is due to the very fact that the monarchy is now made into almighty god…. The more you make the monarchy sacred, the more it becomes unaccountable and something beyond common sense.
The strength of the movement is unknown, but as author Fuller states:
One way to assay the strength of the anti-monarchy movement might be by sizing up the military government’s efforts to counter it. The junta, which claims legitimacy from the king’s blessing, has positioned itself as the institution’s ultimate defender.
The ruling generals have been aggressive in jailing critics of the monarchy and this year alone are spending $540 million, more than the entire budget for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on a promotional campaign called “Worship, protect and uphold the monarchy.”
The campaign includes television commercials, seminars in schools and prisons, singing contests and competitions to write novels and make short films praising the king. The military also erected giant statues of past kings in the seaside town of Hua Hin, but said they were financed by private donations.
“This is not propaganda,” Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of the junta, said several months after seizing power last year. The youth, he said, “must be educated on what the king has done.”
It is also a part of preparing for the succession. Former Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is quoted:
Mr. Kasit, the former foreign minister, said the bicycle tour was a “turning point” for the prince.
“There are no more doubts inside the military establishment as to who will be the next monarch of Thailand,” Mr. Kasit said.
PPT thinks that’s accurate and it is one of the few times we have agreed with the erratic Kasit. And, it is in the military’s interests to maintain the critical link to the monarchy:
The military’s backing of the prince, indeed its alliance with the monarchy, is seen as mutually beneficial. The king is the head of the Thai armed forces and must endorse all new governments and major appointments. Critics say the military and Bangkok establishment are leveraging the king’s power to bolster their own.
Fuller observes that the political divisions of recent years remain:
Military rule has papered over those [political] divisions, silencing critics and jailing former members of the government. But unifying the country remains the most pressing challenge for both the junta and the future king.
While the article concludes with advice from Thailand’s 5th and most absolute of its “modern” kings, which he didn’t necessarily follow himself, the real final word belongs to critic-in-exile Somsak Jeamteerasakul:
The situation of the Thai monarchy will not remain like this for many more years…. There are two options for the future. Either transform to a modern monarchy like in Europe or Japan or don’t change and become definitively demolished (a republic). There is no third choice.