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 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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
The Thai political temperature has been rising. Since the beginning of this month, protests have returned to the streets of Bangkok.
The last time mass demonstrations took control of Bangkok was in May 2010. That event ended tragically with the military, reportedly at the order of the then government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, killing almost 100 red-shirt members. And until now, nobody has been prosecuted for this terrible crime committed against the people.
Anti-government groups, initially led by the opposition Democrat Party, have protested against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for her attempt to pass the controversial amnesty bill through Parliament.… Seguir leyendo »
During Yingluck Shinawatra’s official visit to Japan late last month, Thailand’s first female premier did not just exploit her charm to win over Japan, but also dared to talk openly about the most sensitive issue facing her country — the protracted political crisis that followed the 2006 military coup that had overthrown her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the most successful prime minister in Thai history.
Yingluck held a bilateral talk with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. As expected, Yingluck, accompanied by a large entourage of Thai businessmen, sought deeper economic cooperation with Japan. On top of her agenda, Yingluck attempted hard to raise the confidence of Japanese investors to continue to use Thailand as a production base.… Seguir leyendo »
As the world order shifts, with the United States being challenged by the rise of China, leaders in Beijing have begun to readjust their position toward Southeast Asia to strengthen its allies.
More importantly, this is also part of China’s desire to maintain its sphere of influence in the region.
Over 10 years, China has successfully made inroads into several countries in Southeast Asia with the primary aim of manipulating their policies in ways that are beneficial to Chinese interests.
Already, strong ties between China and these states, particularly in mainland Southeast Asia, have had considerable impact on the unity of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).… Seguir leyendo »