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The beginning of the end for the Thai monarchy?

Mike Barton

On ROPS
On ROPs
Protests in Thailand are hardly newsworthy, the country seems to have been in political turmoil since forever but oddly enough always seemed to function OK.

So the latest protests would hardly seem to be anything to get bothered about but I notice a hitherto unprecedented element to these protests, they are directed against the king. This is something that in my limited knowledge of the country (limited to a diving holiday about 15 years ago and the occasional visit with wife and kids over the years, before anyone asks about my Reactolite glasses) is almost unheard of. The old king was adored with a godlike reverence and not a word (publicly) would ever have been said against him, but his son is a complete and utter wastrel who seems to spend his time shuffling his favourite concubines in a luxury hotel complex in Germany.

The king was forced by the Germans to go back home and stop running his country from theirs and his arrival sparked protests against him (in a country where you can go to jail for insulting royalty). This to my mind seems to indicate a whole other level of seriousness, and things could start turning very nasty indeed if the royalist section of the population gets upset.

Now I fully recognise my woeful lack of knowledge about the country, and that often the things that the foreign media get worked up about are surface issues and not the real problem brewing underneath. But as I am currently based in the region and I notice things are getting edgy in both Malaysia and Indonesia I would welcome input from people with greater local knowledge who could put the situation in perspective. Is the monarchy on its way out? If so who replaces it? The Army? Haven't they been running the show anyway for the past 10 years or so?

 
Protests in Thailand are hardly newsworthy, the country seems to have been in political turmoil since forever but oddly enough always seemed to function OK.

So the latest protests would hardly seem to be anything to get bothered about but I notice a hitherto unprecedented element to these protests, they are directed against the king. This is something that in my limited knowledge of the country (limited to a diving holiday about 15 years ago and the occasional visit with wife and kids over the years, before anyone asks about my Reactolite glasses) is almost unheard of. The old king was adored with a godlike reverence and not a word (publicly) would ever have been said against him, but his son is a complete and utter wastrel who seems to spend his time shuffling his favourite concubines in a luxury hotel complex in Germany.

The king was forced by the Germans to go back home and stop running his country from theirs and his arrival sparked protests against him (in a country where you can go to jail for insulting royalty). This to my mind seems to indicate a whole other level of seriousness, and things could start turning very nasty indeed if the royalist section of the population gets upset.

Now I fully recognise my woeful lack of knowledge about the country, and that often the things that the foreign media get worked up about are surface issues and not the real problem brewing underneath. But as I am currently based in the region and I notice things are getting edgy in both Malaysia and Indonesia I would welcome input from people with greater local knowledge who could put the situation in perspective. Is the monarchy on its way out? If so who replaces it? The Army? Haven't they been running the show anyway for the past 10 years or so?

I don't have a great knowledge of Thailand but from what I have read (mainly in the Guardian) is that the protesters want a constituitional monarchy more like the UK, Japan, Scandanavia, Netherlands and Belgium etc. The protesters are also against the military government which took power after the latest military coup.

Many people in Asia look to the example of South Korea where in 30 years due to pressure from the people the country went from a miltary government to a full democracy with a first world econmomy, full rights for women and a crack down on corruption with one former President jailed and the first women President impeached and jailed, together with several chairman's of multi-national companies.

A lot of young people are very well educated and they can see past this bullshit of full western style democracy is not the 'Asian way' that old Lee used to spout in Singapore.
 
Protests in Thailand are hardly newsworthy, the country seems to have been in political turmoil since forever but oddly enough always seemed to function OK.

So the latest protests would hardly seem to be anything to get bothered about but I notice a hitherto unprecedented element to these protests, they are directed against the king. This is something that in my limited knowledge of the country (limited to a diving holiday about 15 years ago and the occasional visit with wife and kids over the years, before anyone asks about my Reactolite glasses) is almost unheard of. The old king was adored with a godlike reverence and not a word (publicly) would ever have been said against him, but his son is a complete and utter wastrel who seems to spend his time shuffling his favourite concubines in a luxury hotel complex in Germany.

The king was forced by the Germans to go back home and stop running his country from theirs and his arrival sparked protests against him (in a country where you can go to jail for insulting royalty). This to my mind seems to indicate a whole other level of seriousness, and things could start turning very nasty indeed if the royalist section of the population gets upset.

Now I fully recognise my woeful lack of knowledge about the country, and that often the things that the foreign media get worked up about are surface issues and not the real problem brewing underneath. But as I am currently based in the region and I notice things are getting edgy in both Malaysia and Indonesia I would welcome input from people with greater local knowledge who could put the situation in perspective. Is the monarchy on its way out? If so who replaces it? The Army? Haven't they been running the show anyway for the past 10 years or so?



Mike, you're not based in the region at all, are you?

You're in a bedsit above a news agent in the Shankhill.
 
Protests in Thailand are hardly newsworthy, the country seems to have been in political turmoil since forever but oddly enough always seemed to function OK.

So the latest protests would hardly seem to be anything to get bothered about but I notice a hitherto unprecedented element to these protests, they are directed against the king. This is something that in my limited knowledge of the country (limited to a diving holiday about 15 years ago and the occasional visit with wife and kids over the years, before anyone asks about my Reactolite glasses) is almost unheard of. The old king was adored with a godlike reverence and not a word (publicly) would ever have been said against him, but his son is a complete and utter wastrel who seems to spend his time shuffling his favourite concubines in a luxury hotel complex in Germany.

The king was forced by the Germans to go back home and stop running his country from theirs and his arrival sparked protests against him (in a country where you can go to jail for insulting royalty). This to my mind seems to indicate a whole other level of seriousness, and things could start turning very nasty indeed if the royalist section of the population gets upset.

Now I fully recognise my woeful lack of knowledge about the country, and that often the things that the foreign media get worked up about are surface issues and not the real problem brewing underneath. But as I am currently based in the region and I notice things are getting edgy in both Malaysia and Indonesia I would welcome input from people with greater local knowledge who could put the situation in perspective. Is the monarchy on its way out? If so who replaces it? The Army? Haven't they been running the show anyway for the past 10 years or so?


The new one sounds like a Prince Andrew walt.
 
Very interesting.
The late King, King Bhumibol, who passed away about 4 years ago was worshipfully respected by Thai people. For 27 years I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, across the street from Mount Auburn Hospital where King Bhumibol was born. It was often visited by Thai tourists who wanted to take pictures of the King's birthplace. Often, if I was in my garden , Thai's would approach me to ask me to snap their picture in front of the hospital and tell me that it was the King's birthplace. The hospital had an oil painting of the king in the lobby and would fly the Thai flag in front on the kings birthday.
About 25 years ago a Thai princess and the Thai Ambassador to the US came to Cambridge to dedicate a memorial in Harvard Square at the location where the baby king and his parents lived. The king's father, then a prince and the princess were in Cambridge as the King at the time wanted to improve Thai healthcare and sent both Prince and his wife to the Harvard School of Public Health to earn MPH degrees.

A bit sad that the current King, by an apparently dissipated life style, has squandered his heritage.

My son was born in the same hospital and same building as the late king but is not royalty. Still a nice young man though.
 
There’s another underlying tension: the previous Redshirt/Yellowshirt split.

People in Thailand started to wear yellow T shirts when they found out it was the old king’s favourite colour. There’s a cultural explanation for this but that’s a subject for another dit.

Starting nearly 20 years ago, there was a rise in popularity of a Thai nationalist party led by a charismatic businessman with no prior government experience (think Trump but more effective).

His party was called ‘Thai Rak Thai’* and his name was Thaksin Shinawatra.

Whilst he was in power he cemented popularity in his ‘base’. The rural poor. He did this by a series of ‘gizzits’ such as gifts of bags of rice etc. His actions were very unpopular with the middle class who were paying for this. Thailand has a very narrow tax base.

He was ousted. His base rose up and started to wear red shirts in support of him. There were dark mutterings that he had tried to compete with the old king who was revered by the population, including the rural poor.

However a rebranded version of his party, under his sister, took power again. More demonstrations. The anti Thaksin movement- the middle classes - hit on the idea of wearing yellow shirts to make the point that they were loyalists. This became like the pro life movement. Who could be ‘anti king’.

She’s out of power now, because of the coup, he’s in exile, the Army is in power.**

But...‘ they haven’t gone away you know’.

There’s (at least) two more threads to the story.

The old king and the queen were - allegedly - effectively estranged. She championed the succession of her son (the new king) in a country where succession is not automatic. There was support for the selection of his sister who is also revered but past child bearing age. The young king was also ‘groomed’ from a very young age by the military who gave him lots of shiny toys to play with.

What’s darker is that there is an ethnic divide in Thailand. Historically the Thai middle class are ethnic Chinese. That’s very common in Bangkok and Thai Chinese tend to be recognisable by lighter skin. Yep, that’s very much the Yellow Shirts. They’ll celebrate Chinese New Year, for example.

People in the villages tend to have darker skin (not just because of working in the sun). They are from the ‘indo’ part of indochina. There’s the same ethnic split in Laos and Cambodia.


* Literally ‘Thais love Thais’.

** the old king had form for quelling rebellions and moderating the effect of coups. It’s felt he was too frail to deal with the last one.
 

Mike Barton

On ROPS
On ROPs
There’s another underlying tension: the previous Redshirt/Yellowshirt split.

People in Thailand started to wear yellow T shirts when they found out it was the old king’s favourite colour. There’s a cultural explanation for this but that’s a subject for another dit.

Starting nearly 20 years ago, there was a rise in popularity of a Thai nationalist party led by a charismatic businessman with no prior government experience (think Trump but more effective).

His party was called ‘Thai Rak Thai’* and his name was Thaksin Shinawatra.

Whilst he was in power he cemented popularity in his ‘base’. The rural poor. He did this by a series of ‘gizzits’ such as gifts of bags of rice etc. His actions were very unpopular with the middle class who were paying for this. Thailand has a very narrow tax base.

He was ousted. His base rose up and started to wear red shirts in support of him. There were dark mutterings that he had tried to compete with the old king who was revered by the population, including the rural poor.

However a rebranded version of his party, under his sister, took power again. More demonstrations. The anti Thaksin movement- the middle classes - hit on the idea of wearing yellow shirts to make the point that they were loyalists. This became like the pro life movement. Who could be ‘anti king’.

She’s out of power now, because of the coup, he’s in exile, the Army is in power.**

But...‘ they haven’t gone away you know’.

There’s (at least) two more threads to the story.

The old king and the queen were - allegedly - effectively estranged. She championed the succession of her son (the new king) in a country where succession is not automatic. There was support for the selection of his sister who is also revered but past child bearing age. The young king was also ‘groomed’ from a very young age by the military who gave him lots of shiny toys to play with.

What’s darker is that there is an ethnic divide in Thailand. Historically the Thai middle class are ethnic Chinese. That’s very common in Bangkok and Thai Chinese tend to be recognisable by lighter skin. Yep, that’s very much the Yellow Shirts. They’ll celebrate Chinese New Year, for example.

People in the villages tend to have darker skin (not just because of working in the sun). They are from the ‘indo’ part of indochina. There’s the same ethnic split in Laos and Cambodia.


* Literally ‘Thais love Thais’.

** the old king had form for quelling rebellions and moderating the effect of coups. It’s felt he was too frail to deal with the last one.
Fascinating point about the ethnic/racial divide, I had no idea that existed. If I am not wrong the same situation portends in the Philippines, where the whiter-skinned Chinese/Spanish ethnic group still holds most of the reins of political and economic influence.

You seem rather unimpressed by Thaksin and I can understand why his opponents so disliked him, but is it not fair to say that his base had good reason for supporting him? Even if he was a bit of a spendthrift populist, at least he was doing something for the people at the bottom of the heap.
 
There’s another underlying tension: the previous Redshirt/Yellowshirt split.

People in Thailand started to wear yellow T shirts when they found out it was the old king’s favourite colour. There’s a cultural explanation for this but that’s a subject for another dit.

Starting nearly 20 years ago, there was a rise in popularity of a Thai nationalist party led by a charismatic businessman with no prior government experience (think Trump but more effective).

His party was called ‘Thai Rak Thai’* and his name was Thaksin Shinawatra.

Whilst he was in power he cemented popularity in his ‘base’. The rural poor. He did this by a series of ‘gizzits’ such as gifts of bags of rice etc. His actions were very unpopular with the middle class who were paying for this. Thailand has a very narrow tax base.

He was ousted. His base rose up and started to wear red shirts in support of him. There were dark mutterings that he had tried to compete with the old king who was revered by the population, including the rural poor.

However a rebranded version of his party, under his sister, took power again. More demonstrations. The anti Thaksin movement- the middle classes - hit on the idea of wearing yellow shirts to make the point that they were loyalists. This became like the pro life movement. Who could be ‘anti king’.

She’s out of power now, because of the coup, he’s in exile, the Army is in power.**

But...‘ they haven’t gone away you know’.

There’s (at least) two more threads to the story.

The old king and the queen were - allegedly - effectively estranged. She championed the succession of her son (the new king) in a country where succession is not automatic. There was support for the selection of his sister who is also revered but past child bearing age. The young king was also ‘groomed’ from a very young age by the military who gave him lots of shiny toys to play with.

What’s darker is that there is an ethnic divide in Thailand. Historically the Thai middle class are ethnic Chinese. That’s very common in Bangkok and Thai Chinese tend to be recognisable by lighter skin. Yep, that’s very much the Yellow Shirts. They’ll celebrate Chinese New Year, for example.

People in the villages tend to have darker skin (not just because of working in the sun). They are from the ‘indo’ part of indochina. There’s the same ethnic split in Laos and Cambodia.


* Literally ‘Thais love Thais’.

** the old king had form for quelling rebellions and moderating the effect of coups. It’s felt he was too frail to deal with the last one.
Thanks for that Bob, I've been thinking all PM of how to add to the thread and you've done it for me.

I was visiting Thailand during the various protests by red and yellow shirts, although not the one where the airport was occupied. Prior to one visit I emailed my hotel to check that the route from the airport into town was clear and they replied that it was, referring to the protesters as 'insurgents'.

Prior to Yingluck's demise (and wasn't her exit from the country 'interesting'?) I asked my wife what she thought of Yingluck's government. She said that the rice-pledging scheme (whereby the government guaranteed a higher price for rice) was a Very Good Thing. I (gently) asked her what the government would do with all the rice which they wouldn't be able to sell other than at a loss. "Ah" she said.

Many Thais are smart but sadly they are poorly educated, my wife included. They know little of the world outside their country, are generally poor at speaking languages other than their own and are not taught how to think. Hence they accept the status quo and concentrate on making enough to feed their family and keep some sort of a roof over their heads. This is particularly so at the moment when the collapse of the tourist industry is having disastrous down-stream economic effects. Suicides have increased although figures are probably being fudged or ignored.

The pro-reform demonstrators at the moment appear middle or upper middle class university students and the police appear to be quite cleverly picking off the leaders. The Bangkok Post appears to be factual and as independent as they can be: Bangkok Post: Most recent

I'll be more interested if demonstrations happen in Ubon Ratchathani, Korat or Udon Thani.
 
Fascinating point about the ethnic/racial divide, I had no idea that existed. If I am not wrong the same situation portends in the Philippines, where the whiter-skinned Chinese/Spanish ethnic group still holds most of the reins of political and economic influence.

You seem rather unimpressed by Thaksin and I can understand why his opponents so disliked him, but is it not fair to say that his base had good reason for supporting him? Even if he was a bit of a spendthrift populist, at least he was doing something for the people at the bottom of the heap.

I think Thaksin was a case of ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’.

He was merely looking for an angle.

For example, he talked of making Thailand the new business hub of SE Asia, and supplanting Singapore. At the very same time he was making it much harder for foreign businesses to work in Thailand.

Another wrinkle in the history of Thailand is that they fought a 20-year civil war in the NE against the Communist Party of Thailand. The war only came to an end because of a deal with the Chinese (who were supporting the CPT). The ‘base’ of the CPT was very much the same base that the Red Shirts were trying to connect with. I’m sure the Thai VSO were not unaware of this.
 
Thanks for that Bob, I've been thinking all PM of how to add to the thread and you've done it for me.

I was visiting Thailand during the various protests by red and yellow shirts, although not the one where the airport was occupied. Prior to one visit I emailed my hotel to check that the route from the airport into town was clear and they replied that it was, referring to the protesters as 'insurgents'.

Prior to Yingluck's demise (and wasn't her exit from the country 'interesting'?) I asked my wife what she thought of Yingluck's government. She said that the rice-pledging scheme (whereby the government guaranteed a higher price for rice) was a Very Good Thing. I (gently) asked her what the government would do with all the rice which they wouldn't be able to sell other than at a loss. "Ah" she said.

Many Thais are smart but sadly they are poorly educated, my wife included. They know little of the world outside their country, are generally poor at speaking languages other than their own and are not taught how to think. Hence they accept the status quo and concentrate on making enough to feed their family and keep some sort of a roof over their heads. This is particularly so at the moment when the collapse of the tourist industry is having disastrous down-stream economic effects. Suicides have increased although figures are probably being fudged or ignored.

The pro-reform demonstrators at the moment appear middle or upper middle class university students and the police appear to be quite cleverly picking off the leaders. The Bangkok Post appears to be factual and as independent as they can be: Bangkok Post: Most recent

I'll be more interested if demonstrations happen in Ubon Ratchathani, Korat or Udon Thani.

The scene in the Anna Leonowens films when the young Chulalongkorn has a hissy fit when he sees that Thailand isn’t the biggest country in the world is a very good metaphor for the Thai educational system.
 
Protests in Thailand are hardly newsworthy, the country seems to have been in political turmoil since forever but oddly enough always seemed to function OK.

So the latest protests would hardly seem to be anything to get bothered about but I notice a hitherto unprecedented element to these protests, they are directed against the king. This is something that in my limited knowledge of the country (limited to a diving holiday about 15 years ago and the occasional visit with wife and kids over the years, before anyone asks about my Reactolite glasses) is almost unheard of. The old king was adored with a godlike reverence and not a word (publicly) would ever have been said against him, but his son is a complete and utter wastrel who seems to spend his time shuffling his favourite concubines in a luxury hotel complex in Germany.

The king was forced by the Germans to go back home and stop running his country from theirs and his arrival sparked protests against him (in a country where you can go to jail for insulting royalty). This to my mind seems to indicate a whole other level of seriousness, and things could start turning very nasty indeed if the royalist section of the population gets upset.

Now I fully recognise my woeful lack of knowledge about the country, and that often the things that the foreign media get worked up about are surface issues and not the real problem brewing underneath. But as I am currently based in the region and I notice things are getting edgy in both Malaysia and Indonesia I would welcome input from people with greater local knowledge who could put the situation in perspective. Is the monarchy on its way out? If so who replaces it? The Army? Haven't they been running the show anyway for the past 10 years or so?


This posted a few minutes ago on the FCO travel warnings:


As of 0400 on Thursday 15 October, a ‘Declaration of a Serious Emergency Situation in Bangkok’ is in place. It will remain until further notice. Gatherings in Bangkok of five or more people are prohibited. The publication of news or online messages that “may create fear and are deemed to harm national security” is prohibited. Security officials have the right to arrest, detain and seize the property of anyone suspected of threatening national security. You should follow the instructions of local security officials.

Activists may continue to hold rallies across Thailand in the coming weeks. In Bangkok, potential rally locations include the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, the Ratchaphrasong Shopping District Skywalk near the MBK building and Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre, and university campuses. Rallies may disrupt traffic and commercial activity, and there may be a heightened security presence.

Avoid any protests, political gatherings, demonstrations or marches, and be wary of making political statements in public. Lèse-majesté (criticism of the monarchy in any form) is a crime which can be broadly interpreted, and carries a long jail sentence
 

endure

GCM
Thanks for that Bob, I've been thinking all PM of how to add to the thread and you've done it for me.

I was visiting Thailand during the various protests by red and yellow shirts, although not the one where the airport was occupied.
That closure got me an extra two weeks holiday there that my boss couldn't complain about ;-)
 

endure

GCM
Live from Bangkok

 
This posted a few minutes ago on the FCO travel warnings:


As of 0400 on Thursday 15 October, a ‘Declaration of a Serious Emergency Situation in Bangkok’ is in place. It will remain until further notice. Gatherings in Bangkok of five or more people are prohibited. The publication of news or online messages that “may create fear and are deemed to harm national security” is prohibited. Security officials have the right to arrest, detain and seize the property of anyone suspected of threatening national security. You should follow the instructions of local security officials.

Activists may continue to hold rallies across Thailand in the coming weeks. In Bangkok, potential rally locations include the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, the Ratchaphrasong Shopping District Skywalk near the MBK building and Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre, and university campuses. Rallies may disrupt traffic and commercial activity, and there may be a heightened security presence.

Avoid any protests, political gatherings, demonstrations or marches, and be wary of making political statements in public. Lèse-majesté (criticism of the monarchy in any form) is a crime which can be broadly interpreted, and carries a long jail sentence
When I was working in the country in the 1990's, a politician got 2 years jail for making a veiled reference to the king that was seen to be derogatory. I was warned by the Thai Airways guys that I was teaching that criticising the King was very much a no-no.
 

endure

GCM
I made the mistake of inadvertently riding through the middle of Chiang Mai on the back of a motocy with a yellow shirt on while the airport thing was kicking off.

I attracted a lot of attention.

It was the only time I did it ;-)
 

endure

GCM
When I was working in the country in the 1990's, a politician got 2 years jail for making a veiled reference to the king that was seen to be derogatory. I was warned by the Thai Airways guys that I was teaching that criticising the King was very much a no-no.


The difference between then and now is the difference between the old king and the current one...
 
The difference between then and now is the difference between the old king and the current one...
Precisely - I was told long before the old king died that his son was seen as little more than a playboy and was not liked. We were out there about 18 months ago and, although his portrait was everywhere, there seemed to be no enthusiasm for him and our guide was very evasive when my wife asked questions about him.
 

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