Tag Archives: Thailand

Thailand’s Game of Thrones enters new era

A woman walks past a portrait of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun at a department store in central Bangkok, Thailand January 13, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

A woman walks past a portrait of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun at a department store in central Bangkok, Thailand January 13, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
January 14, 2017

While people in the United States grapple with having done exactly what the Founding Fathers railed against and have elected a cartoon version of George III, the entrenchment of authoritarian democracy is going much more smoothly in Thailand.

Mind you, in Thailand the country’s aristocracy and its military leaders have been busy for 10 years creating a managed democracy. And the whole charabanc risked sliding off the road last October 13 when much-loved King Bhumibol Adulyadej died and his despised and mistrusted son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, prepared to ascend the throne.

However, after three months of largely invisible negotiations behind the heavy curtains in the corridors of power, the project to give Thailand’s nearly 70 million people a highly restricted democracy overseen by the military is back on track. But King Bhumibol’s death has thrown the timetable a bit off track. Elections, in their new restricted and highly stylised form, are unlikely to be held before 2018, when there had been hopes of having them this year.

Thirty years ago it appeared that all 10 countries of Southeast Asia were travelling purposefully and positively down the road to stable democracy. But Thailand’s reversion to military-vetted democracy and the election of the self-confessed murderer Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, means that there is now only one country in Southeast Asia – Indonesia – which can be called a democracy in the fullest sense of the term.

Vietnam and Laos remain one-party communist states. Burma, also called Myanmar, is still under military rule with only a thin veneer of civilian politics. Malaysia has been ruled by the same party – the United Malays National Organization – since independence from Britain in 1963 and now bubbles over with corruption. Singapore is not so much a country as a corporate conglomerate controlled by the family of founding father Lee Kuan Yew. Cambodia is the personal domain of Hun Sen, who in one guise or another has ruled the country since 1985. Brunei is a sultanate – an absolute monarchy — sitting on top of a large subterranean bubble of oil.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia

Thailand’s new constitution, slotting it into this community of democracy lite regimes, is all ready for the approval process. But it got side-tracked by the death of King Bhumibol and frictions between the Crown Prince, now King Maha, and the military regime, led by coup leader and now Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. The new constitution was sent to King Maha for royal approval on November 8, but he hasn’t responded yet. That may now happen after a compromise this week removing the authority of Prem Tinsulanonda, 96, the Machiavelian and scheming head of King Bhumibol’s Privy Council who has been regent since the old king’s death. King Maha wanted Prem out of the way so he can establish his own authority over his court and royal household, and attempt to create his own relationship with the military and government.

Once King Maha approves the outline of the new constitution it will go back to the Constitutional Drafting Committee, which will have 240 days to write the necessary laws. These will then go to the National Legislative Assembly, which will have 60 days to debate and approve the process. If the assembly wants to make changes, these will have to be considered by joint sessions with the Constitutional Drafting Committee.

And then the whole thing will have to go back to the king for royal approval. New elections must be held within 150 days of royal assent for the new constitution. So it is very hard to visualise a timeframe that allows for new elections this year.

There are three decisive elements in the new constitution. The first changes the law dealing with political parties. This is aimed at encouraging participation by small parties, forcing the creation of parliamentary coalitions and making it impossible for a single-party government. Second, there will be a senate appointed by the military to keep check on the activities of the lower house of parliament. Third, a “crisis committee” will allow the military to intervene and remove the elected government if it thinks national security is under threat.

This is the culmination of over a decade of protests, riots, coups, bloody military crackdowns, and huge social and political upheaval at the heart of which is one objective – to destroy the political power of self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin was an extraordinary innovation in Thailand’s politics when, after a career building a massive mobile phone and telecommunications corporate empire, he burst onto the political scene in the 1990s. He founded the Thai Rak Thai party, with its populist pledge to better the lives of the country’s large rural peasant population, and swept to power at the head of a strong coalition government in 2001. This was remarkable enough in Thai political history, but then in 2005 Thaksin did something unique. He not only won re-election, but did so with a clear majority for his Thai Rak Thai party of 374 of the 500 seats in parliament.

The royalists’ knives were out for him immediately and Thaksin’s behaviour did much to encourage the belief among urban elites that he was a republican intent on overriding the central position held by the king in the country’s political discourse. There were several occasions when Thaksin showed what many people considered disdain for the monarch.

Street protests against Thaksin began in early 2006. Demonstrators alleged he was corrupt, that he had avoided massive tax liabilities in the sale of one of his companies to the Singaporean national wealth fund, and that he had restricted press freedom. Thaksin’s response was to call a snap election in April, in which, with the benefit of a boycott by most other parties, he won 462 of the 500 parliamentary seats. But then the Constitutional Court ruled that election was invalid, and a new election was ordered to be held in October.

That never happened because on September 19, while Thaksin was attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the army launched a coup and took control of the country. It set up a junta, which was quickly recognised as the government by King Bhumibol. It is highly unlikely, however, that the king was involved in the planning or giving prior for the coup. But there is evidence that the head of his Privy Council, Prem Tinsulanonda, was deeply involved in the military take-over.

An air of embarrassment hung over the whole escapade. The Thai Rak Thai party was dissolved by the Constitutional Tribunal, and a return to civilian rule after new elections was promised within a year. That’s what happened in 2007, except that the election was won by new parties affiliated to Thaksin. He remains highly popular among the rural poor, and although he operates from exile, he is able to use his vast wealth to finance political operations at home.

Predictably, the election result re-energized the anti-Thaksin forces. Over the next months there were dozens of protests and violent incidents leading to the occupation of Bangkok’s international airport and the occupation of the government district. The political deadlock was broken when the Constitutional Court in 2008 banned Thaksin’s proxy governing party and opened the door for the opposition Democrat Party to take power.

However, when the Democrat Party Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, called an election in 2011, a majority of Thai voters again showed their loyalty to Thaksin. Thaksin’s latest political operation, the Pheu Thai Party, run by his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, won an outright majority. But in May, 2014, the Constitutional Court again intervened and removed Yingluck from office after finding her guilty of abuse of power. It was then that the Commander of the Royal Thai Army, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, stepped in with a coup and installed himself as Prime Minister.

Prayuth is being much more diligent than were the 2006 coup plotters in trying to ensure that Thaksin cannot yet again win an election and take control of government. But the death of King Bhumibol and the coming to the throne of King Maha may complicate this mission. Thaksin and King Maha appear to have formed a close relationship, though it is difficult to fathom the basis of the alliance or how deep are their political bonds.

They have at least one thing in common. Both live outside Thailand. Thaksin spends most of his time in Dubai since he went into self-imposed exile after the 2006 coup. King Maha has lived in Munich, Germany, for many years where his eventful personal life attracts less attention. He has had four wives, messy break-ups between marriages, a progression of mistresses, and many children from these liaisons whose rank in line for the throne changes with the status of their mothers. His vindictive nature is not confined to the women in his life, which is why King Maha’s accession to the throne is a matter of much disquiet and fearful apprehension.

So the possibility that King Maha may become a promoter of Thaksin’s overt return to Thai politics carries the prospect that the country is not approaching the end of more than a decade of upheaval, merely the opening of a new and doubtless equally colourful chapter.

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related on F&O:

Uneasy lies the head that wears Thailand’s Crown, by Jonathan Manthorpe, December 2014  Column

It’s a story that would have William Shakespeare licking his lips and sharpening his quill. The tale has everything that excited the creative juices of The Bard. There’s a dying king, much loved and revered by his people for his care for their wellbeing. But waiting in the wings is a hated, rapacious and vindictive Crown Prince. Even the most fervent royalists among the people are consumed with anxiety about what may happen when the prince assumes the throne and grasps the powers of monarchy. There is a rival for the crown, the king’s daughter, who has earned the public’s affection because of her charity and good works. But it is unclear whether she has the desire or the will to challenge her brother for the throne.

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Thailand’s Tiger Temple

Thailand’s Tiger Temple denies accusations that tigers bred there have been sold on the black market. But the allegations of mistreatment of tigers had dented Thailand’s tourism image, said a spokesman with the Wildlife Conservation Office.

By Chaiwat Subprasom 
February, 2016

A tiger jumps while it is trained at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok, Thailand, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES

A tiger jumps while it is trained at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok, Thailand, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom 

Thailand’s controversial Tiger Temple, dogged for years by talk that it supplies the black market and mistreats its animals, is fighting to keep the big cats after wildlife authorities rejected a bid to extend a zoo licence that expired in 2013.

The Buddhist temple, home to more than 100 tigers, has been investigated for suspected links to wildlife trafficking and wildlife activists have accused it of illegal breeding of the animals.

Thai wildlife authorities have sent ten of the temple’s tigers to a wildlife sanctuary.

But the temple, which bills itself as a wildlife sanctuary, has denied links to illegal trafficking, and wants to hold on to its tigers.

“This is their home. They are happy here,” said Supitpong Pakdijarung, an official of the foundation that runs Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua, as the temple is known in Thailand.

“The government has to find a budget to take care of them,” Supitpong, the body’s deputy chairman, said. “Here, the money comes from donations. It is about giving and generosity.”

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A tourist poses for picture at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok, Thailand, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES

A tourist poses for picture at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok, Thailand, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom 

Supitpong denies accusations that tigers bred at the temple have been sold on the black market.

But the allegations of mistreatment of tigers had dented Thailand’s tourism image, said Teunchai Noochdumrong, director of the country’s Wildlife Conservation Office.

“The world is looking at us,” he added. “The temple did not allow officials to enforce the law. The temple has affected Thai tourism.”

In the past, attempts by wildlife officials to inspect the tigers have been blocked by the temple and its abbots.

A trainer feeds a tiger at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok, Thailand, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES

A trainer feeds a tiger at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok, Thailand, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom 

Thailand has long been a hub for illegal wildlife trafficking, as a place where everything from exotic birds to reptiles, and even bears, is for sale, driven by international demand for exotic meats and rare pets.

Successive governments have launched campaigns to curb the trade in illegal wildlife, but with varying degrees of success.

One visitor to the temple said the tigers should be left there, rather than being confiscated.

“These animals are used to being around people,” said Victoria Carpenter, an American tourist.

Copyright Reuters 2016

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

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Uneasy lies the head that wears the Crown

Behind the palace walls of Thailand, writes Jonathan Manthorpe, lies political intrigue that would have William Shakespeare licking his lips and sharpening his quill. Photo by Aleksandr Zykov via Flickr, Creative Commons

Behind these palace walls, writes Jonathan Manthorpe, lies political intrigue that would have William Shakespeare licking his lips and sharpening his quill. Photo by Aleksandr Zykov via Flickr, Creative Commons

 

JONATHAN MANTHORPE
December 5, 2014

It’s a story that would have William Shakespeare licking his lips and sharpening his quill.

The tale has everything that excited the creative juices of The Bard.

There’s a dying king, much loved and revered by his people for his care for their wellbeing. But waiting in the wings is a hated, rapacious and vindictive Crown Prince. Even the most fervent royalists among the people are consumed with anxiety about what may happen when the prince assumes the throne and grasps the powers of monarchy. There is a rival for the crown, the king’s daughter, who has earned the public’s affection because of her charity and good works. But it is unclear whether she has the desire or the will to challenge her brother for the throne.

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok in 2010. Photo by Bhumibol_Adulyadej, Government of Thailand

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok in 2010. Photo by Bhumibol_Adulyadej, Government of Thailand

There is the politically powerful and involved Queen, the king’s consort. She defends her husband’s interests, as she sees them, in alliance with scheming and manipulative palace officials.

In the background are three discarded princesses, wives of the Crown Prince. With them are their children, some of whom have lost their royal birthrights.

Beyond the palace walls are hugely wealthy merchants intent on limiting the power of the monarchy. And on the streets is an emotionally charged population, riven into factions, and all-too-often primed for violence.

This could be imperial Rome, medieval Denmark or Scotland, or Plantagenet England. But it is modern day Thailand, where the people this week are celebrating the 87th birthday of King Bhumibol Aduladej, the world’s longest serving monarch. The king has for several years been in hospital or in a specially constructed hospital room at the palace. He seems to be hanging on to life by a slim thread. But no one outside the palace inner circles knows for sure the true state of his health. Thailand has draconian lesé-majesté laws, which prohibit any public discussion about the royal family. The laws allow for prison sentences of up to 15 years for miscreants and there are frequent prosecutions, even of foreigners. The result is that there can be no public discussion of some of the most crucial political and constitutional issues facing Thailand.

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In the light of the rumours about the monarch’s health, there was much surprise this week when the palace announced King Bhumibol will hold a public audience today, Friday, to mark his birthday. In the event, the King’s appearance was cancelled, on the advice of his doctors, further fuelling speculation about how long he has left.

But the original statement from the palace about the audience and the members of the royal family who would, it was hoped, accompany King Bhumibol read like the cast of players in the drama over Thailand’s future that has gripped the country for more than a decade.

With the King, said the statement, would be Queen Sirikit. She has come to the fore as a political force during her husband’s decline. Her intervention in political events has been evident since September, 2006, when senior army officers launched a coup against the Prime Minister, billionaire businessman Thaksin Shinawatra.

The coup was launched with, at the very least, the acquiescence and perhaps at the instigation of the wily and devious head of the King’s Privy Council, former army general Prem Tinsulanonda. The excuse for the coup was the alleged corruption and republican instincts of Thaksin, who now lives in exile, but who continues to be a dominant figure in Thai politics because of his fortune and his support among poor, rural Thais.

Since he came to the throne in 1946, King Bhumibol has on several occasions used his considerable constitutional powers to intervene in Thai political life, usually to prevent military coups, hasten the end of martial rule and promote democratic advancement.

There is little confidence, however, that when the King dies and if Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn takes the throne, the palace will continue to be a moderating and largely beneficial influence on public life.

Much of the turmoil in Thai politics since the 2006 coup, and even going back to the election of Thaksin as Prime Minister in 2001 has revolved around trying to find a new, workable balance between the powers of the palace and of the parliament before the King dies. Many see Thaksin as a champion of parliament and the establishment of a functional constitutional monarchy that would limit the impact of king Vajiralonghorn, with his erratic and spiteful nature, his habit of consorting with gangsters, and his indiscriminate womanising.

But while this view appears to set up a sharp confrontation between parliamentarian Thaksin and royalist Vajiralongkorn, the relationship is not that clear cut. Indeed, in recent years since the coup the two have become closely associated and Thaksin, who became hugely wealthy by building a communications, media and retail corporate empire, is even reported to have paid for a mansion for the prince. But the latest reports are that the two have fallen out.

The statement from the palace this week about the King’s birthday audience says Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn would attend and would be accompanied by his wife of the moment, Princess Srirasmi. This was a surprise because Prince Vajiralongkorn is in the process of trying to divest himself of Srirasmi, a former bar girl. And for once in Thailand, the Prince’s mean and unpleasant treatment of Srirasmi has been played out in public.

Prince Vajiralongkorn’s predilection for humiliating people, especially his wives, was amply displayed in late 2009 when WikiLeaks posted an amateur video of a nauseating 2001 birthday party he held for his pet poodle dog, Air Chief Marshall Foo Foo. Prominent throughout the video is a clearly uncomfortable Princess Srirasmi, dressed only in a thong apparently at the insistence of the Prince. At one point Vajiralongkorn instructs the princess to crouch down like a dog.

Stories have circulated for some time that these days Prince Vajiralongkorn lives much of the time in Munich, Germany, with his Thai Airlines air stewardess mistress, Suthida, with whom he has son. Some reports say they are married and that the son is second in line for the throne.

Prince Vajiralongkorn has been trying to divorce Princess Srirasmi for a while and to establish Suthida as his consort. It seems that palace officials have dissuaded him from doing so for fear of the effect the news might have on the King’s already feeble health.

But in the last few days Prince Vajiralongkorn, never a man who likes to be thwarted, decided to act. The first indications of his move against his wife came in a circuitous way. Last week the news broke that Pongpat Chayaphan, the head of the Thai national police Central Investigation Bureau, had been arrested along with a dozen colleagues. They face various corruption charges, including soliciting bribes, permitting illegal gambling and smuggling oil into the country.

This was startling, and a clear indication that intrigue is loose in the palace because Pongpat is the uncle of Princess Srirasmi, and under usual circumstances would be immune from this kind of prosecution. This week the Crown Prince took the next step when it was announced that seven of Princess Srirasmi’s relatives have been arrested for misusing their royal status to amass vast fortunes. The princess and her family were also ordered to stop using the royal name Akrapongpreecha, which was bestowed on them by Prince Vajiralongkorn when he married Srirasmi in 2001.

It looks very much as though Srirasmi’s nine-year-old son, Dipangkorn, should give up any hopes of remaining a prince or his father’s heir. It may not be much consolation, but Dipangkorn will not be the first of Vajiralongkorn’s sons to be cast aside when the Crown Prince tired of their mothers.

Prince Vajiralongkorn first married in 1977, to his first cousin, who became Princess Soamsavali. They had one daughter, but soon after the marriage Vajiralongkorn started living with a woman who was somewhat charitably described as “an aspiring actress.” The Crown Prince had four sons and one daughter with Yuvadhida Polpraserth, who became Princess Sujarinee after he got a divorce and they married in 1994. But the marriage did not go well from the start and in 1996 Princess Sujarinee fled to Britain with her children. Vajiralongkorn managed to abduct the daughter, who now lives in Thailand as a princess. But Sujarinee and the four sons have been stripped of their royal titles and Thai passports, and now live in the United States.

The Thai constitution gives King Bhumibol latitude in choosing his successor, especially since a 1974 change that allowed a woman to become monarch. Vajiralongkorn is regarded with such fear and loathing, even among palace courtiers, that there is hope the King will bypass his son and pick his daughter, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, to succeed him.

Unlike her brother, Princess Sirindhorn is highly popular among Thais of all classes and is known as Phra Thep — Princess Angel — for her charitable work and financing of rural development schemes. She is a highly qualified academic with degrees in history and a doctorate in education development. The Princess teaches in the history department of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy.

There would be much public cheering if King Bhumibol chose his daughter to succeed him. But there are some serious problems associated with that choice. The most obvious is that Prince Vajiralongkorn is unlikely to take kindly to losing his inheritance. He is a formidable enemy.

The other significant problem is that if Princess Sirindhorn became Queen it would present a future succession problem. The lesé-majesté laws have effectively barred any public discussion of the princess’ sexuality, but she is unmarried and the inference is that she is a lesbian. The closest any public comments have come to discussing the issue have been asides that Princess Sirindhorn “prefers the company of women.”

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2014

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

 

 

Further reading:

Army attempts to mediate Thailand’s political crisis, by Jonathan Manthorpe, May, 2014
Renewed fears of Thai military coup as political chaos growsby Jonathan Manthorpe, May, 2014
Thailand’s PM Yingluck faces judicial as well as military coup, by Jonathan Manthorpe, January, 2014

 

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has traveled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

 

 

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Bandaging Symptoms Won’t Cure Thailand’s Trauma: Manthorpe

410px-Prayuth_Jan-ocha_2010-06-17_CroppedThailand’s ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra “is a symptom of Thailand’s problems, not the source of them,” writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. “Erasing him and his cohorts from the political agenda will not alter the reality that Thaksin represents an upwardly mobile and provincial middle class in Thailand that wants a voice in a system dominated by royalist courtiers, old money and the military.”  An excerpt of today’s column:

Thailand’s military regime appears intent on purging the country of all traces of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family, and preventing a come-back by the man who has dominated national politics for 15 years.

But the course that army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta are taking is destined to further embed the destructive fissures in Thailand’s unhappy political culture. If, as has been flagged, Gen. Prayuth allows fresh elections under a new, heavily restricted democratic constitution around October next year, it will open a door on a new era of unresolved conflicts and contradictions.

More unrest, like that in which Thailand has been embroiled since the military ousted Thaksin in 2006, is inevitable until the country’s deep-seated tensions between social classes and financial interests are addressed … read more (Subscription required*)

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Reform Agenda of Thailand’s Junta Destined to Fail

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Martial law an interlude in Thailand crisis – Manthorpe

392px-King_Bhumibol_Adulyadej_2010-9-29

King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand

Amid the tension and turmoil in Thailand this week, only one thing is  certain — the military would not have intervened without the approval of ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. An excerpt of his new column:

A day after declaring martial law, the first attempt by Thailand’s army to mediate an end to the country’s eight years of political turmoil ended inconclusively, with both major factions refusing to end their street protests.

Hours after launching what has been called “a half coup,” Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha today chaired a meeting with representatives of the governing Pheu Thai Party, the opposition Democrat Party and the chairman of Thailand’s election commission. 

But he was unable to get any commitment from either the governing or opposition parties to end their demonstrations, which have regularly spawned violence since Thai politics was thrown into chaos by the 2006 military coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is now in self-imposed exile.

Gen. Prayuth insists his declaration of martial law is not a coup, that the government of Pheu Thai acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan is still the administration, and that his only aim is to prevent bloodshed …  read more.*

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Thailand in Turmoil — Manthorpe

Niwatthamrong_Boonsongpaisan_at_Ministerial_Conference_2013_crop

Caretaker Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan

Thailand is once again roiled by political turmoil, with a rural-urban split. Will there be civil war? Can the country’s aging King Bhumibol Adulyadej hang on? What will come of its democracy when Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, “seen as a vindictive man with thuggish instincts,” takes over? International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe explains why military intervention – now being widely discussed – is no simple matter. Excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column:

Thailand’s military leaders are clear that they don’t want to launch another coup, but the growing intensity of the political chaos may give them little choice.

Last week’s ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra by the Constitutional Court for abuse of power has left dangerous uncertainty about which political leader, if any, has the authority to run the government.

There is even talk of civil war as cohorts of pro and anti-government supporters circle each other in the capital, Bangkok, so far without serious clashes.

In the last few days anti-government demonstrators from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, known as Yellow Shirts, have rampaged through the capital, Bangkok, attacking media outlets and demanding the removal of the caretaker government.

So far there have been no clashes with the government supporters of the United Front for democracy Against Dictatorship, known as Red Shirts. But emotions are high and on a hair-trigger …  read more.*

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Analysis: Will Thailand’s military again intervene?

Expect more turmoil next week in Thailand’s dysfunctional political culture, writes international affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. The big question in the expected fracas between the two main factions – identified by the yellow shirts worn by urbanites or the red garb of rural dwellers — is whether the military will intervene. Excerpt:

Manthorpe B&WThailand is awash with rumours of a looming military coup as opposition activists aim to shut down the capital, Bangkok, on Monday, in their campaign to oust the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. All the signs are, however, that the military is reluctant to intervene unless the police lose control of the streets.

The head of Thailand’s army, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, was involved in the 2006 coup in which the government of Prime Minister Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted. Thai politics have been in sometimes-violent disarray since, and people close to Prayuth say he is well aware that military coups solve nothing.

More difficult to envisage is what will solve Thailand’s increasingly dysfunctional political culture. The fissures in what was always a bumbling, corrupt and ineffectual democracy have been widening and deepening since the 2001 election of Thaksin Shinawatra.

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Manthorpe on amnesty and exile in Thailand

Thailand is roiled by political intrigue, street protests and royal scandal. International affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe explains why an amnesty bill is unlikely to change this state of affairs:

No end is in sight to the torrid and bloody turmoil that has engulfed Thailand’s public life for almost a decade, as the country’s senate prepares to reject an amnesty law that would allow ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return from exile.

Since it was elected in 2011 the Pheu Thai Party government, led by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra, has been looking for the right moment to produce the highly contentious amnesty law. 

Yet even the recent broadening of its provisions to absolve everyone from all parties involved in alleged illegal acts during the years of turmoil, has failed to stem opposition.

Last week’s passage of the amnesty bill through the lower house of parliament, where Prime Minister Yingluck has an overwhelming majority, led to days of mass street protests in the capital Bangkok and other cities around the country.

Fearing these protests will again explode into the street violence that has dogged the nation since a military coup in 2006, Senate Speaker Nikom Wairatpanij says he believes a majority of the 150 senators will decide it is in the national interest to reject the bill when it comes before them on November 11  …   Read more.

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