Saturday, 12 July 2014

Why Thai Infighting Must Go On

“The Crown Prince, because he will be new, may not be as popular as His Majesty the King. However, he will have less problem because the palace circle will be smaller, because of being new in the reign… He's not the King yet, he may not be shining. But after he becomes the King I'm confident he can be shining to perform Kingship... It's not his time yet. But when the time comes I think he will be able to perform… Yes, yes [The royal institution needs reform].”

Thaksin Shinawatra, November, 2009, Interview with The Times.

“We’ve seen pictures of his previous wives and girlfriends put out on the internet nude, they’re pictures taken of them nude in the palace. How they leaked out was another issue. Some macho people, some Thai guys might think it’s cool, it shows he’s a king who commands, who has a harem and things like that, but for the most part, a prince is someone in the royal family who must protect the institution of the monarchy, they must build it, they must keep its image strong, and this does nothing but make it a point of ridicule.”

Author of “The King Never Smiles” Paul M Handley, 14 April 2010, ABC Foreign Correspondents

Though each opposing side in Thailand speaks of a noble cause of democracy for their infighting, their fundamental drive is to control the next monarch. The revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej is frail and ailing; and the question of a suitable successor has been lingering and underlining an unspoken war over the royal succession waged by competing factions of the Thai elite for years.

At the Yellow corner is a group Thaksin refers to as palace circle dominated by three former prime ministers: General Prem Tinsulanonda, Anand Panyarachun, and Air Chief Marshall Siddhi Savetsila. Prem is president of the 18 member Privy Council that the 2007 constitution gives many roles and powers associated with issues surrounding the monarchy. The trio, who are closest to the palace, revile Crown Prince Maha ­Vajiralongkorn’s lifestyle, unfit to be revered; they dread the day the crown prince becomes king. Anand reports in 2009 a consensus among many Thais that the crown prince could not stop, nor would he be able to rectify, his misbehaviour. Siddhi tells US ambassador Eric John almost hopefully in 2010, “if the crown prince were to die, anything could happen, and maybe Prathep [Princess Sirindhorn] could succeed.”

Another group of ex-prime ministers led by Thaksin Shinawatra are at the Red corner. They look forward to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn taking over the reign. Privy councillor Siddhi speculates that Vajiralongkorn would be ready to welcome fugitive and self-exiled Thaksin back to Thailand once he becomes king.

Both sides are fighting for the control of the parliament that has the constitutional power to proclaim King Bhumibol’s successor. Previous four general elections in 2001, 2005, 2007, and 2011 give Thaksin and his political proxies easy victories in parliament. Shinawatra’s populist policies continue to galvanise solid support among the rural poor.

The seemingly unstoppable rise and rise of the Shinawatras’ political force and influence has caused an uncontrollable anxiety within the palace circle. Since 2005, all political sabotages have failed to the curb the Shinawatra’s clout, and derail the royal succession. These include coup d’etats the palace supports; former prime minister Samak Sundaravej complains to Ambassador John that Queen Sirikit encourages the 2006 coup d’etat.

These successive failed attempts to command the parliament have sent the palace circle into a full-blown panic mode. Now that they have instigated a fresh coup d’etat to give them a temporary reprieve, perhaps it is time they consulted Hun Sen on how to organise an election that guarantees desirable outcomes. Or they may just proceed to proclaim Princess Sirindhorn as Queen after the king dies. It is unlikely, though, the Thaksin group will allow this to happen.

There is just too much at stake. The trophy prize of this prolonged antagonism is the role of a kingmaker controlling the vast royal fortune estimated at more than $37 billion. The victor will potentially be able to dominate Thailand politically and economically for years to come. That is why the infighting must be so bitter, vicious, and protracting in the foreseeable future.

Ung Bun Ang


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