Pavin Chachavalpongpun

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A pro-democracy protester holding up a three-finger salute during a demonstration calling on Thailand’s senators to respect the result of the May 14 general election, in Bangkok on July 29.Credit...Jack Taylor/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For a brief time this summer, it seemed like Thailand might finally be on the cusp of truly representative government.

In elections in May, a pro-reform party won the largest share of votes, riding a wave of public discontent over nine years of military rule and the outsize prerogatives enjoyed by the Thai royal family. Thailand’s monarchy is one of the wealthiest and longest-reigning in the world. Backed by the military and the judiciary, it is the linchpin of a conservative establishment that has fought off challenges to its dominance for decades, often with royally-endorsed military coups that overthrew democratically elected governments.…  Seguir leyendo »

Myanmar ruler Min Aung Hlaing, left, and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on Friday. (AP)

On Jan. 7, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen arrived in Myanmar for a two-day visit, making him the first Southeast Asian leader to travel there since the February 2021 military coup that overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The Myanmar opposition, which is engaged in a bitter struggle with the military regime, harshly criticized the Cambodian leader for legitimizing the ruling junta.

Hun Sen wasn’t acting out of altruism. He clearly expected the leaders of Myanmar to return the favor by supporting his own authoritarian regime. Unfortunately, such behavior is becoming the norm around the region. The elaborate network of mutual dependence among Southeast Asian autocrats is accelerating the steady decline of democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Relatives mourn a day laborer who was shot during an anti-coup protest on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar. A poster of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s deposed de factor leader, hangs in the background. Credit Panos Pictures/Redux

Nearly three months after the military coup in Myanmar, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will finally host an emergency summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Saturday to discuss the crisis. Expectations for any breakthrough are low.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s commander in chief and the leader of the coup on Feb. 1, is expected to attend the meeting (his first known trip abroad since the takeover). But the newly formed, self-proclaimed national unity government of Myanmar, a group of deposed legislators, has not been invited, prompting some analysts and human rights groups to argue that ASEAN tacitly is legitimizing the military government.…  Seguir leyendo »

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, right, Queen Sirikit and Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn in December 2000 during festivities in Bangkok for the king’s 73rd birthday. Credit Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Several thousand people dressed in yellow or pink, colors associated with the royal family of Thailand, gathered along the road to the Grand Palace in Bangkok on Saturday to celebrate the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016.

Many more people have gathered at recent protests to call for the monarchy’s reform.

Last week a demonstration was supposed to take place outside the majestic yellow building that houses the Crown Property Bureau, the agency that manages the Thai royal family’s colossal fortune. In 2018, the current king and Bhumibol’s son, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, claimed direct, personal control over those assets, estimated at $30 billion to $60 billion.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Case of Thailand’s Disappearing Dissidents

At 4:45 a.m. on July 8, a man wearing black and a mask broke into my apartment in Kyoto. He walked into my bedroom, attacked me and my partner with a chemical spray and escaped. Nothing was stolen. The Japanese police arrived quickly. The investigation is ongoing; the perpetrator has not been apprehended.

No official conclusion has been reached about who executed, much less orchestrated, the attack, but it matched a trend of harassment — and sometimes abduction and even killing — targeting anti-monarchist Thai dissidents overseas.

The 2014 military coup against the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra prompted hundreds of people to flee Thailand and go into exile, especially among supporters of Ms.…  Seguir leyendo »

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha of Thailand spoke to the press about the rescue process at the Tham Luang Cave last month. Credit Linh Pham/Getty Images

When the last members of a youth soccer team trapped in the Tham Luang Cave in northern Thailand were freed on Tuesday, it wasn’t just they who were rescued. For a moment at least, the ruling junta also seemed to escape from criticism of its authoritarian ways.

The successful operation was a rare chance for Thailand’s military rulers — who have been in power since ousting an elected government in 2014 — to present a softer face, compassionate and efficient. The extraordinary rescue was an antidote to the usual accusations that the junta keeps changing its so-called road map to democracy to delay the next election and displays little consideration for basic freedoms or human rights.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, center, holds a light during Wesaka Bucha, the most important Buddhist holy day of the year, at a temple in Bangkok last month. (The Nation/Pool Photo via AP)

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is visiting Europe this month. On Wednesday, he held talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London — to be followed by a stop in Paris on Monday to confer with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Officially, May urged Prayuth to hold “free and fair elections” and to allow political parties to function freely, but it’s clear that the two countries’ desire to boost trade took the upper hand. Let’s hope that Macron will take a tougher line. Such an intervention is urgently needed — even if Thailand’s deepening problems aren’t solely of the prime minister’s making.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn is seen at the monument of King Rama I after signing a new constitution in Bangkok, Thailand on April 6, 2017. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

The royal cremation of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej ended with a grand spectacle last month. King Bhumibol passed away on Oct. 13, 2016, ending his 70-year-reign. Now King Vajiralongkorn, Bhumibol’s son, is on the throne. But Vajiralongkorn’s lack of moral authority and his controversial lifestyle — both in sharp contrast to his father — have begun to worry Thais. The stability of the monarchy has long been the key to the stability of Thai politics.

Thailand’s friends have recently started to readjust their policy to cope with the new reign of Vajiralongkorn, which remains highly unpredictable. Japan, one of Thailand’s most crucial allies and economic partners, is also in the process of renewing its ties with the Bangkok monarchy — ties that were rock-solid during the Bhumibol era.…  Seguir leyendo »

Since the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, U.S. policy toward Southeast Asia has remained uncertain. Leaders around the world have become anxious about whether the United States will continue to engage with the global community or adopt an isolationist foreign policy to please American conservatives.

Amid this anxiety, the U.S. recently announced the launch of this year’s Cobra Gold military exercise, due to begin Tuesday. Cobra Gold has long represented the bedrock of relations between the U.S. and Thailand, which can be traced back to the Cold War period. The exercise, initiated in 1980 and one of the largest in the Asia-Pacific region, involves 13,000 troops from 24 Asian-Pacific countries.…  Seguir leyendo »

Following the Thai political crisis that led to two military coups in 2006 and 2014, overthrowing the elected governments of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra respectively, it became evident that the Thai middle class and civil society organizations were not performing as agents of change. Instead they became defenders of the old power while protecting their political interests.

Claiming to safeguard democracy, members of the Bangkok-based middle class staged protests against these governments, which were supposedly tainted by self-interested politicians like Thaksin and Yingluck. In reality, the fear of the Shinawatras and their successful populism designed to empower the rural residents answered why the middle class and civil society rejected their kind of democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thailand’s much revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away Oct. 13. His death has heightened the anxiety felt by some members of the Thai public about the country’s uncertain future without the charismatic monarch. Increasingly many royalists are expressing their concerns through a series of witch-hunt operations against the supposed critics of the late king.

The royal cult cultivated during the reign of Bhumibol has intensified now that the sacredness of the royal institution has begun to decline with Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn’s imminent accession to the throne. During this period of mourning, an army of royalists has embarked on witch hunts to eliminate those whom they perceive to be enemies of the monarchy.…  Seguir leyendo »

(L-R) Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Sirikit on a balcony of Anantasamakom Throne Hall in Bangkok to mark the King’s birthday on December 5, 1999. PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKULPORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE via Getty Images

The magical reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej has ended.

The Thai king, and world’s longest-reigning monarch, passed away on October 13, at the age of 88. The king served as the symbol of Thai unity and stability; his departure has left a gigantic hole in the Thai political landscape that is now filled with uncertainties over the future of the country without the charismatic king.

Born in 1927 and crowned in 1946, King Bhumibol led an authoritative reign that competed fiercely with civilian governments for political power and the loyalty of the Thai people. The king was made into a sacred and inviolable entity, protected by the harsh lèse-majesté law which states that insulting comments against the monarch would be sentenced up to 15 years.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thailand plays the Russia card

On April 7-8, Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian prime minister to visit Thailand in 25 years. The Russian leader’s visit to Bangkok was excessively publicized both to the benefit of Russia in expanding its presence in Southeast Asia, and to that of the military government of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocho who took advantage of Medvedev’s high profile visit to legitimize his regime.

While in Thailand, Medvedev signed a number of bilateral agreements with his Thai counterpart, for example, to combat drug trafficking, boost investment and develop Thai energy sector. The two countries were ambitious in their goal to double annual bilateral trade next year to $10 billion.…  Seguir leyendo »

December is the holy month for Thailand. The much-revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej turns 87 on Dec. 5.

The king has been on the throne since 1946 and now becomes the world’s longest reigning monarch. In the past seven decades, Bhumibol had been able to transform the once-unpopular monarchy into Thailand’s most powerful political institution.

Throughout the country, tourists find it perplexing to witness a colossal human wave clad in yellow. Yellow is the color of the Monday on which the king was born. Thus the yellow shirt was made a royal symbol.

The military government of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered civil servants and urged all Thais to wear yellow shirts for the entire month.…  Seguir leyendo »

At 4 a.m., still dark, Ekapop Luara, aka Tang Acheewa, hurriedly packed his suitcase and left Sihanoukville, a town in Cambodia. The next destination was unknown. But he knew he had to run to avoid being captured by agents of the Thai military. Since Thailand’s coup of May 22, Ekapob has been hunted by the junta. The charges against him: being anti-coup and committing lèse-majesté.

Ekapop is among a number of Thai fugitives seeking refuge in Thailand’s neighboring countries. By now, it is clear that Ekapop is hiding somewhere in Cambodia. He is under the protection of the Cambodian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).…  Seguir leyendo »

Over the past two months, Thailand has been wrenched backward into a dark age. In May, partisan judges forced Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra out of office, and then royalist generals seized power from the caretaker government. It was the 13th military coup since the end of the absolute monarchy eight decades ago.

Once again the generals were claiming to step into a political mess simply to restore order. But this time the stakes are especially high, particularly for the traditional elite — the military, conservative royalists, many judges and senior bureaucrats and big businesses. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is 86 years old, and the crown prince is not as popular.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thai Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha addresses Thai ambassadors at the Royal Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok on June 11. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

In the past month, since the Thai military overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in the 19th coup since Thailand abolished its absolute monarchy in 1932, I became a fugitive.

The official rationale for the coup was to restore peace and order after months of protest against a government accused of widespread corruption. But, as in the past, the real reason it was launched was to defend the interests of elites allied with the monarchy. Over more than six decades on the throne, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has worked intimately with the military to fashion a politics in which civilian governments are kept weak and vulnerable to the threat of a coup, should they overstep their bounds.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Thai army chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, staged a military coup Thursday afternoon. It was the 19th coup since Thailand abolished the absolute monarchy in 1932.

The coup reiterates the essence of martial law launched two days earlier, which gives full authority to the military to take tight control of the political situation, including the suspension of civil rights and curbs on media and academic freedoms — all in the name of restoring law and order.

Essentially the military’s latest coup should be perceived as an act of disparaging democratic principles. Once again, an elected government has been overthrown in the most illegitimate way.…  Seguir leyendo »

More than six months have passed since protesters launched a campaign to topple the elected government of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

During this period the agendas of the protesters have shifted several times, from objecting to the ruling Pheu Thai Party’s controversial amnesty bill to fighting against the so-called corrupt Thaksin regime. It is convenient for the protesters to substitute Thaksin with his sister Yingluck. They have accused her of being his puppet and reproached her for inheriting corrupt policies from him.

What was meant to be a short-lived battle has turned out to be long and dangerous wrangling between the two sides.…  Seguir leyendo »

One of the more auspicious events of the year has just passed in Thailand. It was the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch. Born Dec. 5, 1927, he was enthroned in 1946 following the mysterious death of King Ananda, his elder brother.

Now turning 86, historically, the king has remained at the epicenter of Thai politics. But his position in the past decade has been challenged by new political forces. The current crisis, which witnesses a new round of political violence provoked by the anti-government movement, fails to conceal the fact that the monarchy once again is the source of deep political polarization.…  Seguir leyendo »