King Bhumibol Adulyadej Dies: What Next For Thailand?
NEW DELHI: Thailand has heightened security as thousands of people across the country held vigils mourning King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a revered figure who helped unify the nation in his 70-year reign. King Adulyadej, who died 3:52 PM on Thursday aged 88 was the longest reigning living monarch.
The Royal Palace said announced the news saying that the King had died in a “peaceful manner” as hundreds of people had for days gathered at Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital where the king was being treated. As the late afternoon set in, the crowd swelled to thousands in anticipation of the news.
As the news was announced, emotional crowds held vigils across the country, as websites turned their pages black and white and tributes poured in from across the world.
The Thai government declared a public holiday on Friday, when the king's body will be taken to the city's Emerald Temple. The cabinet asked the people of the country to not hold and "entertainment activities" for a month, and civil servants have been ordered to wear black clothes in mourning for a year.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is expected to ascend the throne, but the succession has been delayed. Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said "he needs time to jointly mourn with Thai people." "I would like to ask all Thais to listen to the credible source of news and invite all Thais to dress in a way to mourn his passing for one year to offer our condolences," the prime minister said in a television address.
The PM urged all citizens to remain calm and said soldiers would be stationed in "every area throughout the kingdom" to boost security. "Do not let anyone seek an advantage during this time of crisis," he said.
(People mourn the news of the Thai King’s death)
Condolences poured in from world leaders. US President Obama said that "as the revered leader and only monarch that most Thais have ever known, His Majesty was a tireless champion of his country's development and demonstrated unflagging devotion to improving the standard of living of the Thai people.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May said: "His Majesty guided the kingdom of Thailand with dignity, dedication and vision throughout his life. He will be greatly missed."
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted “King Bhumibol Adulyadej or Rama 9, was widely revered by his people. My thoughts are with his countless well-wishers & family.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the King had "won the sincere love of his people and high authority abroad for the decades of his reign.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement released by a spokesperson, praised the king's "long dedication to his country and his legacy as a unifying national leader."
The Philippines issued a statement saying the king was "a Father of the Nation, whom the Thai people revered and loved dearly. He will surely be missed. We are one with the royal family, the Thai government, and the Thai nation during this period of deep mourning.
It is significant to note that the military that took power in a coup two years ago in Thailand draw their legitimacy from the King’s endorsement. The 2014 coup was the second in a decade and suspended most of the Constitution. Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha was installed as the prime minister and chief of the junta, a move that was backed and supported by the King. The 2014 coup was the 12th coup in the South-east Asian nation’s history since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.
In August this year, voters backed a new Constitution that was written by the military. The new Constitution reduces the power of political parties and gives the military the authority to appoint members of the Senate.
The role of the King is particularly interesting when we examine the nature of Thai democracy and military rule, as the country has had a dozen coups in the last 82 years. he only constant in the midst of this political turmoil has been the power of the king, Adulyadej Bhumibol, whose role in Thai Politics has been unique as compared to other constitutional monarchs. As Duncan McCargo argued in his essay, ‘Network Monarchy and Legitimacy Crises in Thailand’, Thai politics can be best understood in terms of networks and the leading network from 1973 has been centered on the palace and is termed as ‘network monarchy.’
The concept of network monarchy suggests that the role of the king is characterized by active interventions in political processes achieving considerable influence in political circles but never accomplishing conditions for absolute domination. Moreover, in case of Thailand, these interventions and spheres of influence have been made possible through a network of proxies installed at the behest of the king. Examples of the king playing a significant role as a political mediator, didactic commentator and decision maker are several- involvement in the ouster of political strongmen Thanom Kittikachorn and Praphas Charusathien in 1973, interventions in the bloody demonstrations of 1992 and the apparent involvement in the coup against Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. What is interesting to note in the above examples is the fact that though the Privy Council or the military carried out these interventions and mediations, King Bhumibol was the guiding force behind them. As McCargo points out, “the royal family continued to display an excessive partiality for the military, rather than promoting reconciliation and unity. Nevertheless, the king eventually leaned an important lesson: network monarchy needed to assume the outward form of polyarchy, so as to coopt and incorporate a range of political actors.”
The King’s importance can be traced from this. Even though he was not actively involved in politics for several years due to ill health, his support for the military did not diminish. In an open endorsement of the recent military takeover, King Bhumibol backed Thailand’s army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha amidst widespread international criticism and increasing detention of those who are opposed to this takeover. The royal endorsement sponsored Chan-ocha as the head of the National Council for Peace and Order and ensured the people that elections would take place once the military had restored stability and peace to the nation. Not surprisingly, Chin-ocha too has been most critical of people who have been found disobeying the Lèse Majesté law-a law that forbids any form of defamation or insult of the Crown. Moreover, Yingluck Shinawatra is the sister of Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who openly criticized the manipulative role of King Bhumibol in Thai politics and sought to displace network monarchy with new networks of his own devising before he too was ousted by the military. Though Yingluck Shinawatra has not been as openly critical of the king or the military, her policies and actions were clearly not in the interest of network monarchy. While it is hard to definitively prove the direct involvement of the king in Yingluck’s coup, history of Thailand’s monarchy does provide some evident for the same. This coincidence was also noted by an article in the Washington Post titled ‘Behind Thailand’s coup is a fight over the king and his successor. But it’s hush-hush.’
The question, “what next?” therefore is as much a question about Thailand’s political trajectory as it is for the line of succession.