Post-Coup Thailand: Anxiety over the Royal Succession
The military staged a coup on 22 May 2014, overthrowing the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Outwardly, the military justified its political intervention with the classic claim that corruption was the rot of Thai politics and the coup was needed to purify the political domain. At a deeper level however, the military intervened at a time when a critical transition in Thai politics is on the horizon: the imminent royal succession. For decades, the traditional elites, of which the military is a part, have long dominated Thai politics. This changed with the arrival of the Shinawatras who set huge socio-economic changes in motion. They then took advantage to empower themselves politically, and in doing so, shook the old political structure. In today’s Thailand, the power struggle between elective and non-elective institutions is now reaching its peak because the era of King Bhumibol is over. Haunted by anxiety over the country without the charismatic King, the traditional elites are vying to manage the royal succession and maintain their power position. The speaker argues that the military government led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha is seeking to accomplish three missions: to reconstruct the electoral system that will benefit the traditional elites; to eliminate political enemies through the legal system, particularly the lèse-majesté law and other non-legal means; and to reinforce the position of the palace to ensure that the monarchy will continue to be at the centre of power in the post-Bhumibol days. It is unlikely that these undertakings will stabilise Thai politics, and as voters become alienated in the political process à la Prayuth. This seems that Thailand's political impasse will continue to be rule Thailand for years to come.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun is Associate Professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University. Earning his PhD from SOAS, he is the editor of “Good Coup” Gone Bad: Thailand’s Political Developments Since Thaksin’s Downfall. After the coup of May 2014, the military summoned Pavin twice for speaking out about its political intervention. He rejected the summons and subsequently, the Thai junta issued a warrant for his arrest thus forcing him to seek refugee status in Japan.