Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Conflcit and Succession

*All Photos Copyright*
Royal Guards on the march in Royal Plaza.

In Spiegal Online, there is a fascinating interview with Sukhumbhand Paribatra, cousin of King Bumibol Adulyadej, BKK governor, and Democratic Party member.

On the current political chaos:

SPIEGEL: Earlier, Thailand was considered the epitome of a Buddhist tropical paradise. But today the country is mentioned in the same breath as civil war and chaos. How do you explain the polarization of your society?

There has always been a division between the rich and the poor in Thai society, and there always was an extreme gap between the urban and the rural masses. But that has always been kept under control by an unstated consensus on the part of all political leaders that certain things should not be touched. There was a consensus that political leaders may quarrel among themselves, but they may not take their quarrel to the extent that it would have any impact on the monarchy or to the extent that it would aggravate these fractions in society.

This seems to affirm what many people are saying about the old power structures that allowed a high Gini Coefficient are now breaking down and revolutionary change has begun.

On the King's interventions, health, and worries of succession:

SPIEGEL: In times of crisis, His Majesty, the King of Thailand, has often spoken out as the moral authority of your country. Does that not indicate that Thailand's politicians are too immature to lead the country on their own?

Sukhumbhand: Actually, the king has not come out so often. He has only intervened in a few cases. But when he did, it was always important. But, clearly, we political leaders have proven to be immature in solving differences among ourselves. So the king is needed. But the fact that the king is there to help out in times of trouble allows us to be immature.

SPIEGEL: At some point, the king will no longer be there. Will Thailand then slip into chaos when he dies? Are you afraid of that?

Sukhumbhand: Of course I am afraid. I was not afraid before. But now, after a few years of political polarization, I think that this political polarization will become even more violent.

This is the looming issue for many. How the current political crisis has been influenced by, or is because of, the coming succession is a point of debate. But most recognize that the succession has enormous potential for igniting violence and chaos in an already volatile political landscape.

And on who will be the future monarch:

SPIEGEL: You are a cousin of the king. So you know the royal court's rules very well. How is the successor to the king actually selected?

Sukhumbhand: There are generally two possibilities. The king can pick his own a successor ...

SPIEGEL: ... which King Bhumibol Adulyadej has not done yet ...

Sukhumbhand: As far as we know. If that hasn't happened, then a successor must be found according to the palace law of 1926. But that is subject to approval by the parliament.

SPIEGEL: So his son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, or one of his daughters would become the successor?

Sukhumbhand: No, the palace law doesn't permit a female successor to the throne.

SPIEGEL: So the only choice would be Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn?

Sukhumbhand: That we know of, yes.

I will sidestep commenting the obvious on the crown prince due to lese majeste laws.

But what is interesting is that succession must be approved by parliament. This is not exactly new information, but it does provide context for why various stakeholders understand that control over parliament is of paramount importance now. It also provides context to PAD's 'new politics' of stacking parliament with appointed seats rather than elected elected seats.

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