“Though Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and the king has only limited formal political power, he is highly influential and is revered by the Thai public after more than 5o years on the throne. Armored vehicles seen moving in the capital bore ribbons of bright yellow, a color associated with the monarchy, news agencies reported.”—closing paragraph of the September 20, New York Times article on the latest Thai coup in which the Thai military took control of Bangkok, ousted the prime minister, suspended the constitution, and declared martial law.
Less than two weeks ago, Paul Handley (whose book, The King Never Smiles, was banned by the Thai government) wrote a prescient piece in the Asia Sentinel about the escalating power struggle between King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
It provides some valuable insight into yesterday’s coup d'état:
[Prime Minister Thaksin’s refusal to disappear from the scene] has left the monarchy [ ] to fall back on the military, where the prime minister and Prem have vied to keep their own men in power. This came to a head in July when Prem – the king’s top advisor – dusted off his military uniform to level a threat of an army coup against Thaksin's government. As bad is Thaksin is, this took Thailand back decades, when coups were the accepted method of changing the government.
Prem and Bhumibol will almost surely win this battle. With his allies dropping out from his Thai Rak Thai party, Thaksin could be replaced by either weak surrogates or the hapless Democrats in the elections to come. In whatever case, the government will not be a strong one and the palace will get its way on what it thinks matters.
Read a pdf excerpt from The King Never Smiles.