SCMP: As Thailand cremates King Bhumibol, can it keep lid on tensions?
My comment on The South China Morning Post
Vajiralongkorn ascended the throne in December last year but public life has slowed remarkably over the past 12 months as the country mourned the late king. Vajiralongkorn’s official coronation is not expected until later this year, leaving the junta to oversee a sensitive transition period.
“The reason the junta could keep power for so long, compared to previous coups, is the passing of the king,” said Kan Yuenyong, executive director at the think tank Siam Intelligence Unit. “[After the coronation] it will be time to get back to normal politics.”
Thailand has been politically divided since its former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a coup in 2006. For the past decade, pro and anti Thaksin groups (the red shirts and yellow shirts) have taken to the streets on various occasions and the old oligarchy has tried to erode the tycoon’s support base among rural and lower income groups in the northeast.
“The political conflict still exists. A lot of grass roots people are still very upset and more and more will get upset because of the [bad] economic condition”, said Kan Yuenyong.
“I think we will see more and more tension after the cremation and the royal coronation,” he added.
In a country where issues related to the monarchy cannot be openly discussed due to punitive lèse-majesté laws, that leaves a big question over the real role that Vajiralongkorn will play.
The final test will come with the next election.
“[The junta] will maintain their power as long as possible but this will cause more tension among political factions in the country,” Kan Yuenyong said.
The risk, he said, was that disaffection would lead to another Black May, the 1992 popular protest against the military government of General Suchinda Kraprayoon that ended in the deaths of more than 50 people, disappearances and more than 3,500 arrests. “The situation now is different to back then,” he said. “If it happens again, it will be a bigger problem.”