“Election,” king and politics in 2018

3 01 2018

For the start of 2018, three academic commentators and a journalist have had a go at crystal-balling Thailand’s political future.

Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun continues his recent lauding the dead king. We at PPT find this quite odd, but it seems Pavin feels that a good king-bad king scenario makes the bad king look badder still. We think he’s wrong to gild the previous reign.

He is right when he says: “Some analysts predicted that Vajiralongkorn would be a weak king dominated by a strong army due to his lack of moral authority and divinity. But the new King has proved these pundits wrong.” This assessment also seems correct:

King Vajiralongkorn has embarked on consolidating his power with the backing of the military. It appears that Thailand’s two most prominent institutions — the monarchy and the military — have attempted to establish a constructive working relationship in order to entrench their respective political standings (at least during this critical royal transition period).

The military king

That relationship has seen the “military … work[ing] towards achieving two goals: eliminating its political enemies and legitimising itself as a political actor.”

He concludes that “the future of Thailand is undefined. 2018 will test the longevity of the interdependent relations between Vajiralongkorn and the military. If such longevity is guaranteed, Thai democracy will be shouldered with another setback.”

Michael Montesano, also an academic, seems sure of a couple of things for 2018: a coronation and the junta’s “election.” But he backtracks on the latter, suggesting it may again be pushed back. He also gets into a bit of good king-bad king stuff, and like Pavin sees Vajiralongkorn as activist/interventionist:

Since the demise of his father, King Vajiralongkorn has been far from passive. But he has devoted his attention above all to matters relating to the management and reordering of royal affairs and to the relationship of the monarchy to the government…. He has not yet begun publicly to define an overarching mission for his reign.

His musings on the future of the monarchy are not particularly convincing to us. But his discussion of the military junta’s role is. He refers to “an ideological orientation” that has the military and junta seeking “to integrate Thai citizens into national affairs without reference to political parties and elections.” On the junta’s “elections,” Montesano sees them as a test of the military regime’s “effort to introduce a political order of lasting quiescence in Thailand.”

Academic Duncan McCargo, acknowledging that The Dictator is “always seems to be trying to wriggle out of it [the junta’s election],” is also unsure about the political future, suggesting five post-election “scenarios.” For all the rumors about new parties – the junta’s and splits from the Democrat Party – and the junta’s more than three years of attacks and repression, McCargo reckons the Puea Thai Party vote could hold up. Even so, “[t]he dice could be loaded the against a pro-Thaksin victory in 2018.” Strikingly, McCargo says almost nothing about the monarchy.

Journalist Shawn Crispin thinks that military regimes that try to stay on tend to be unstable and face civilian uprisings. While he tends to ignore military and military-backed regimes that have had considerable longevity in Thailand, he is the only commentator in this group who considers a civilian uprising against the military a possibility.

He is right that “Thailand’s enterprising but repressed media” seems prepared to “to press the current generation of military coup-makers to hold elections as promised in late 2018 and for coup leader cum premier General Prayuth Chan-ocha to refrain from clinging to power after the polls.”

Crispin notes that “while the media has exposed [the junta’s] massive irregularities” – corruption – the relatively united regime has been able to cover-up using repressive measures:

… the junta’s ironfisted grip on power, underwritten by a hard ban on political association that deems any meeting of more than five people illegal. Invasive state surveillance has also ferreted out and suppressed potential anti-junta agitators before they can mobilize and take to the streets.

He also sees “Thaksin is circling again” as an “election” is anticipated:

Prayuth and Prawit [Wongsuwan] clearly sense an electoral scenario where Thaksin’s coup-ousted Peua Thai is resoundingly restored at the ballot box and their plans to sustain a political role for the military are challenged as illegitimate.

While he says precious little about the monarchy, Crispin does foresee scenarios that involve the king in further delays to an election if the regime feels threatened.

2018 will be interesting.


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5 09 2018
Boosting and boostering for the monarch | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] the military junta has been aggressive in subserviently supporting the king’s political and economic moves and in promoting him in ways that have been both repressive and bombastically […]

5 09 2018
Boosting and boostering for the monarch | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] the military junta has been aggressive in subserviently supporting the king’s political and economic moves and in promoting him in ways that have been both repressive and bombastically […]