Change in Thailand

INTERVENTION by Thailand's King has ended the bloody confrontation between troops and protesters. The widely revered monarch asked for compromise between the government and opposition forces and a change in the country's Constitution to guarantee an elected prime minister.

But the current prime minister, Suchinda Kaprayoon, did not step down. The past week's upheaval in Bangkok left no doubt about the Thai public's disgust with General Suchinda.

He helped organize last year's coup, which toppled a civilian government. He had promised he would not accept an appointment to lead a new government (appointed prime ministers have been an option in Thai politics since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932).

Coup leaders talked about a quick return to civilian rule, new elections, a new constitution. When the March elections resulted in a coalition whose first choice of prime minister was found to be tainted by narcotics connections, the generals urged Suchinda forward, and he accepted the mantle. Many Thais suspected this was what the military had in mind all along.

A protest movement formed around the leadership of Chamlong Srimuang, a newly elected member of Parliament and former governor of Bangkok. The latter post, unlike most governorships in Thailand, is also an elective office. Mr. Chamlong's hunger strike dramatized discontent with the country's step backward to an appointed leader, fresh from the Army.

Governments headed by the military are nothing new to Thais. Most adopted a wait-and-see attitude after last February's coup.

But years of economic boom have produced a growing middle class whose members are less tolerant of generals who invade politics. They demand Suchinda's resignation and a Constitution that requires a prime minister who has been elected to Parliament.

While Suchinda may remain in office for the short term, Thailand's politics will never be the same. An elected leadership must inevitably join a free press and multiparty politics as pillars of Thai democracy.

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