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Ding Gang: Thai royals need to balance govt, military


By Ding Gang    Source: Global Times    Published: 2016-11-30


Thailand`s parliament on Tuesday said that Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is to succeed the throne and become King Rama X, the 10th king in the Chakri Dynasty. Whether Thailand will be able to realize sustainable and stable development in the post-Bhumibol era has been attracting growing worldwide attention.

One of the main characteristics of the era of King Rama IX, or King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is that the country`s royal family, military and political parties form a triangular relationship. The interactions of these three powers determined the nation`s political development and have been the main reason behind the country`s frequent military coups.

Like many other developing countries, Bangkok has not yet developed a framework that balances the power of the government and military in an electoral democracy. This has made it difficult for Thailand, which appears to have realized a Western-style voting system, to attain long-lasting stability.

In August, Thailand approved a junta-backed constitution in a referendum, under which the nation`s Senate members are appointed by the junta and a non-member of parliament can be appointed as prime minister if a deadlock occurs.

As a result, the Thai royal family and junta gained more power to interfere in the country`s politics. As a multi-party democracy, more time is needed to testify whether this framework can bring long-term stability. But one thing is for sure - the power of political parties in Thailand has been weakened.

King Bhumibol had played a vital role in Thailand`s stability over the past decades. This is largely because he had the excellent ability to control and coordinate the Thai military, and possessed enormous charismatic influence among his people. Yet this era has passed.

Analysts have noticed that the Thai monarchy`s power has declined over the past decade of unrest and turmoil. Even if the new king wants to give full play to the same capacity, he will face an increasing amount of resistance.

Thai society has already entered a new era where class division is becoming increasingly prominent. People are becoming highly secularized and all social classes are seeking out or organizing parties that can represent their own forces.

Meanwhile, all political parties in Thailand are busy getting ready for the general election next year. The country`s politics are sure to become more complicated and unpredictable in the future.

Today`s Thailand is more like a post-industrial society in terms of its spiritual civilization. However, its economic structure is still stuck in the industrialization phase.

The development of other Asian economies shows that Thailand might need a more authoritative government with strong executive power for the moment.

But the truth is, the nation`s current social structure is no longer capable of supporting such a government.

Letting the multi-party system wield more influence will only lead to disputes among different parties and unrest in Thailand`s political situation. In the meantime, enhancing coordination between the royal family and the military to maintain social stability is more like a temporary step, and will be unable to bridge the severe divergences among political parties.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha obtained the legal right for the junta to interfere in politics through multiple means, including the referendum, and has won more influence over the armed forces in the post-Bhumibol era. King Rama X, who does not have the decisive influence in the military like his father, might further strengthen coordination with the junta to ensure a stable communication mechanism exists between the junta and the royal family. No matter what, a hard breaking-in period will have to pass before such a political structure is approved by more parties and social classes.

Quite a few developing countries like Thailand are now entangled in unrest because the relationships between the government and the military have been poorly handled. It is both an age-old headache and a new problem for Bangkok.

The author is a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.

Key Words: Thailand   RDCY   politics  

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