February 1, 2014

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Thailand’s Looming Crisis.

The king, the army and the Thai business elite stood together and with the United States during the Cold War. Thailand was the last domino standing when Indochina fell to the communists in the 1970s, and the ties between Thailand and the United States strengthened afterwards as Thailand’s booming economy tied it more closely into the US-based international system.

King Bhumibol, now 86 years old and said to be in poor health, has been on the throne for more than 60 years. Even his critics (and despite Thailand’s very tough laws that make criticizing the King a criminal offense, he has them) concede that his reputation for personal incorruptibility, concern for the poor, and dedication to the Thai people and nation give him a unique stature. No other figure is trusted by as many people to work out compromise solutions and despite the constitutional limits on monarchical power, the king’s soft power (combined with the army’s unswerving loyalty) give him a uniquely powerful role.

Today, the survival of the Thai monarchy is again in jeopardy. The 86-year-old Bhumibol is unique and his personal popularity is far greater than other members of the royal family. His son is widely disliked, said to be cruel and a womanizer, disengaged from the country he will one day rule. Bhumibol has been estranged from his wife, Queen Sirikit, whom Thais tend to fear and mistrust, for twenty years. His daughter is a favorite to succeed him but that would violate centuries of tradition. The coming succession crisis, which will pit different Palace factions against populists like former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, powerful elite businessmen and politicians, and the military, will threaten to tear the country apart.

Read the whole thing.