Want to unwind Thailand's coup? Look to palace politics

Underlying political gridlock is concern over who will replace King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch.

Damir Sagolj/Reuters
A picture of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej is placed onto an anti-government protester's packed belongings as protesters move from the Lumpini park to their new location near the Government House in Bangkok May 12, 2014. Bhumibol is the world's longest reigning monarch.

The twilight of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign has heightened Thailand’s political conflict, both in terms of the palace’s inability to adjudicate and the jockeying for power under his successor. King Bhumibol is 86 and in poor health. He rarely appears in public, but continues to enjoy adulation from ordinary Thais.

Many look askance at his anointed successor, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. The prince, an Air Force pilot, has assumed more royal duties and greater powers within the military, which is entwined with the palace. But he lacks the popularity of his younger sister, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who scholars say also has a claim to the throne under opaque succession laws.  

Palace courtiers have long suspected Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister, of currying favor with the prince. Fear of such an alliance has fueled calls for Princess Sirindhorn to instead ascend the throne.

“The palace is afraid of Thaksin. He’s powerful and popular. And the palace is declining,” says Thongchai Winichakul, a historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This purported rivalry may have fed the recent turmoil, says Paul Handley, author of “The King Never Smiles,” a 2006 biography of the king that is banned in Thailand. Some pro-Thaksin demonstrators reportedly wore shirts emblazoned with the number of the prince’s Army unit; some soldiers who seized power in May wore purple armbands denoting loyalty to the princess.

“It’s becoming a public issue. And succession should never be a public matter,” Mr. Handley says.

In fact, there is virtually no public debate in Thailand over the king’s successor or what sort of role the palace should play. Strict laws prevent any criticism of the monarch and his family, and courts have handed down increasingly long jail terms to offenders.

Still, in recent years criticism has grown over the palace’s lavish spending.

Forbes ranked the king as the world’s richest monarch. Much of this wealth derives from land and stock held by the Crown Property Bureau, a quasi-public company

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.