How Thailand’s Generals Rule by Numbers and the Stars

On the first day of this year — also the first day of the year 2562 in the Thai Buddhist calendar, a time for prayers and divinations — King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun announced that his coronation would take place in early May. The coronation of a Thai Buddhist king is traditionally the last stage of making him into a thewaracha, a divine monarch. In this case, it will also be something like the last stage of an exorcism.

When King Vajiralongkorn, the 10th monarch in the Chakri dynasty, ascended to the throne in late 2016 following the death of his father, he inherited a nation in chaos.…  Seguir leyendo » “How Thailand’s Generals Rule by Numbers and the Stars”

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha of Thailand spoke to the press about the rescue process at the Tham Luang Cave last month.CreditLinh 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 » “Can the Cave Rescue Save the Thai Government Too?”

Lorsque le 18 juin, la Thaïlande a procédé à sa première exécution après un moratoire de neuf ans, les réactions internationales varièrent de la consternation silencieuse aux envolées scandalisées. Mais le général Prayuth Chan-ocha, leader versatile du «Conseil national pour la paix et l’ordre» (NCPO), appellation officielle de la junte militaire qui renversa en mai 2014 le premier gouvernement élu du pays, resta de marbre. Prayuth affirma que la peine de mort était «une nécessité», et qu’elle existait pour «garantir la paix nationale et donner des leçons».

Voici les mots de l’homme à qui le président Emmanuel Macron déroulera le tapis rouge au Palais de l’Elysée lundi.…  Seguir leyendo » “Thaïlande : la machine à écraser les droits humains du général Prayuth”

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 is descending into a climate of fear”

Thai activists hold a symbolic protest against Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who has become embroiled in a scandal involving high-end wristwatches, in Bangkok on Tuesday. (Narong Sangnak/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Last week, historian Charnvit Kasetsiri was summoned to a police station in Bangkok. His crime? He shared a Facebook post about a handbag belonging to the wife of Thailand’s military junta leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha. Under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act — a national security measure — Charnvit could face years in prison.

How did Thailand, once a flawed democracy, lose its way and become an oppressive authoritarian state that criminalizes dissent?

On May 22, 2014, soldiers in green camouflage fanned out across the leafy streets of Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city. They took control of the airport, government ministries, closed down roads, blacked out television stations and imposed martial law.…  Seguir leyendo » “Thailand’s generals don’t seem to be in any hurry to hold new elections”

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 » “Why Thailand’s new king has a troubled history with one of his country’s most important allies”

The royal funeral and cremation ceremony of King Bhumibol this week conclude a year of mourning in Thailand. They also usher in a new era of uncertainty in a country plagued by recurring instability and a polarized political culture.

Thailand’s modern monarchy has been a key source of legitimacy and cohesion. Its revival from an uncertain future after the Second World War was a central achievement of King Bhumibol’s 70-year reign. Through a powerful blend of tradition, divinity and barami (moral charisma), his kingship helped ensure that despite frequent coups, wrenching modernisation and Cold War entanglements, Thailand avoided the sustained mass violence and repression that afflicted most of its neighbours.…  Seguir leyendo » “After Year of Mourning, Thailand’s Divisions Remain”

Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s previous king, will be cremated on Oct. 26 on a grassy patch of land in front of the Grand Palace in central Bangkok. He died a year ago, after a 70-year reign, and he is credited with transforming Thailand into a modern nation-state and unifying the country during times of political turmoil.

An army of royal artists and artisans has built for the occasion an elaborate set of structures that, in Thai Hindu-Buddhist cosmology, symbolizes the mountains, continents and oceans at the edge of the universe. The funeral pyre, precisely 50.49 meters tall, represents Mount Meru, which is thought to connect the human realm to the divine.…  Seguir leyendo » “How a Thai King Made Wealth Seem Sacred”

Nigeria: Growing Insecurity on Multiple Fronts

Nigeria is facing a time of uncertainty and peril. President Muhammadu Buhari’s failing health – he has spent more than 110 days battling an undisclosed illness in the UK – is prompting intense manoeuvring regarding who will run for president in 2019, particularly among loyalists and others seeking to preserve Northern rule. The eight-year-old insurgency by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram persists. An older problem, Biafra separatist agitation in the South East, is provoking dangerous domino effects in the north and Niger Delta, while deadly clashes between herders and farmers are escalating across the central belt and spreading southward.…  Seguir leyendo » “Watch List 2017 – Second Update”

King Maha Vajiralongkorn signed into force Thailand’s 20th Constitution on Thursday, three months after surprising the military government by requesting revisions to its proposed charter. The text could not go into effect until the king approved it.

Vajiralongkorn, who acceded to the throne just this past December, may be trying to wrest some power from the junta, which ousted a democratically elected government in a coup in 2014. And the Constitution’s promulgation sets in motion a timetable for the next, long-awaited, election, now tentatively scheduled to take place by late 2018. Yet none of that necessarily bodes well for the prospects of democracy.…  Seguir leyendo » “In Thailand, a King’s Coup?”

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 » “Cobra Gold set to shift order in Southeast Asia”

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 » “Why is Thailand’s middle class so quick to reject democracy?”

Thailand’s crown prince has become King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun or Rama X, the tenth monarch of the Chakri dynasty, succeeding his father who died on October 13. But great uncertainly remains about Thailand’s future – and that of the monarchy – both within the country and among international observers.

Much attention has focused on the personality of the unpopular Crown Prince. While the international media has noted his erratic personal life, of much greater concern is his reputation for ruthlessness, which could harm the overwhelming respect for the monarchy in Thailand.

Despite the superficial appearance of a modern constitutional monarchy (carefully crafted by palace propaganda), Thailand’s monarchy is, in reality, deeply conservative.…  Seguir leyendo » “Thailand’s future under King Rama X: lessons from three Asian countries”

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 » “Witch hunts follow Thai king’s death”

It is not yet clear how Thailand and its politics will restructure itself following the death of King Bhumibol on 13 October. But a number of facts are becoming apparent.

The king was a unique figure whose role is not easily filled. King Bhumibol’s 70-year reign was the one fixed point in an era of economic transformation, political turbulence and regional conflict. He provided a source of national legitimacy and stability during a record number of coups and constitutions. As Father of the Nation, he became an important part of modern Thai identity.

Furthermore, this role was not merely ceremonial and symbolic.…  Seguir leyendo » “What to Know About Thailand’s Royal Transition”

In November 1951, as Bhumibol Adulyadej, 23, was heading back to Thailand to take his throne, a group of generals overthrew the royalist government and stripped the Constitution of the substantial powers it accorded the monarchy.

Bhumibol became king in 1946 but had been living in Switzerland, studying. His return home was supposed to be a celebration; it was greeted with a blow to the monarchy.

This was an inauspicious start, but it may have been a great blessing. King Bhumibol’s death on Oct. 13 concluded an extraordinary reign of seven decades, during which he arguably became one of the most popular and most respected monarchs in the world.…  Seguir leyendo » “Bhumibol, a King of the People, Leaves Them to the Generals”

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 » “Thai king’s successor could threaten the future of the monarchy”

The constitution’s passage is a victory for the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) which has ruled Thailand since the May 2014 military coup. The 61% ‘yes’ vote exceeded the 57% approval of the previous constitution in 2007, and came despite the major opposition party, Pheu Thai, and the leader of the major establishment Democrat Party, Abhisit Vejjajiva, opposing the draft.

In the short term this outcome reduces uncertainty, as defeat would likely have led to imposition of a constitution with no claim to legitimacy. Opposition forces have accepted the referendum result while criticising the repressive conditions in which it was held.…  Seguir leyendo » “New Thai Constitution Does Little to Reduce Uncertainty”

How America Can Put Thailand Back on Track

When generals led by Prayuth Chan-ocha ousted an elected civilian government here in 2014, they vowed to restore order and eradicate corruption. But since seizing power, the junta has become increasingly erratic, incompetent and repressive.

The economy is stagnating. The threat of social unrest is rising. The Prayuth government has recently completed a draft constitution that would ensure real power remains in the hands of the military even after a formal return to electoral democracy.

How to set Thailand back on track is a matter largely for Thais. But America, which has been the dominant foreign player in Thai politics since World War II, can help rein in the junta’s increasingly dictatorial ways by isolating it from its support base among traditional Bangkok-based elites.…  Seguir leyendo » “How America Can Put Thailand Back on Track”

As the twilight deepens on the almost 70-year reign of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej amid reports of his deteriorating health, the contradictions inherent in this modern, middle-class country ruled by a traditionalist elite are becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile.

King Bhumibol, who is 88 and has lived for most of the last seven years in a Bangkok hospital, was reported in mid-February to have an unidentified virus. The media were full of daily reports on his condition as the palace took the unprecedented step of inviting the public into its ceremonial hall to sign a book for well-wishers. One week later, palace statements said the monarch was recovering.…  Seguir leyendo » “Thai elite must bridge the political divide while it still can”