King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death may set off shockwaves in Thai politics that the eventual passing of the British queen will not, writes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Joshua Kurlantzick:
Most Thais have not known any monarch other than Bhumibol, the ninth of his line of kings. Fear over what his death would bring for a country rattled by an insurgency in the south, recurring violence in Bangkok, and deep political rifts, has been looming for nearly fifteen years. The king’s declining health was always a major unstated rationale for the growing chaos in the kingdom and the return of military dominance over Thai politics.
Thailand’s projected return to democracy could be delayed by monarch’s death, analyst suggest.
“There’s no light at the end of tunnel in terms of demilitarisation any time soon,” said Paul Chambers, an expert on the Thai military and monarchy.
Governance continues to erode. The Muslim insurgency in the south has worsened. Thailand’s once-promising economy has slipped backward, notes Paul Handley, the author of The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej.”
This is a bleak backdrop for the end of King Bhumibol’s reign, he writes for The New York Times:
He was the model of a great king — modest, earnest and selfless, with his attention focused on the neediest. But he has left Thailand, as well as his heir, in the same situation he inherited all those years ago: in the hands of corrupt and shortsighted generals who rule however they want. And those King Bhumibol cared about the most — the Thai people — must suffer the consequences.
It is impossible to accurately measure shifts in Thai views of the monarchy, but the 2006 coup seemed to mark a change, Kurlantzick adds:
Although Thaksin’s party and its supporters publicly continued to embrace the monarchy, signs of anger at the king’s policies and with the archconservative Queen Sirikit began to emerge. Partly in response to the continuing popularity of Thaksin’s party and of apparently rising popular discontent with the palace, the army became increasingly involved in politics. …In recent years, various health crises seemed to force the king to retreat from politics. The junta ruled in his name, but his true physical and mental condition remained obscure. Still, the veneer of stability he provided, backed by lese majeste laws, endured. Now, it may well be destroyed.