As I wrote in the previous post, the unmentionable is now being mentioned in the international media. The 4 December 2008 edition of The Economist goes even further with two articles that discuss in detail the role of the king and the royal family in the current crisis and Siam's democracy (or lack of) in past decades.
The first article, Thailand's king and its crisis, details much of the goings on in the royal family. It warns readers, especially Thai ones, that they may not like what they are about to hear.
Many Thais will squirm at what follows, and will prefer the fairy-tale version of the king’s story. But the king’s past actions are root causes of a conflict dividing the country, and need to be examined.The second article, Thailand's monarchy is part of the problem, goes even further.
The lèse-majesté law is an outrage in itself. It should not be enforced in any country with democratic pretensions. Worse is that the law hides from Thais some of the reasons for their chronic political woes. For what the king himself calls the “mess” Thailand is in stems in many ways from his own meddling in politics during his 62-year reign (see article). In part, the strife also reflects jockeying for power ahead of the succession. With the king celebrating his 81st birthday on December 5th, that event looms ever larger.
Much of the story of how the king’s actions have hurt his country’s politics is unfamiliar because Thais have not been allowed to hear it. Some may find our criticisms upsetting, but we do not make them gratuitously. Thailand needs open debate if it is to prepare for the time when a less revered monarch ascends the throne. It cannot be good for a country to subscribe to a fairy-tale version of its own history in which the king never does wrong, stays above politics and only ever intervenes on the side of democracy. None of that is true.
The article states how the image of the king intervening in 1992 enhanced the image of the monarchy, yet the king's alleged influence in 1976 saw the army slaughter unarmed student protesters. It also says that the king approved of, rather than merely accepted the 2006 coup.
Later The Economist writes,
In the imagination of Thai royalists their country is like Bhutan, whose charismatic new king is adored by a tiny population that prefers royal rule to democracy. In reality, with public anger at the queen’s support for the thuggish PAD and the unsuitability of Bhumibol’s heir simmering, Thailand risks the recent fate of Nepal, which has suffered a bitter civil war and whose meddling king is now a commoner in a republic.
The analogy with Nepal is one that will probably be much repeated in the media in months to come. Nobody would have thought that events there could lead to the end of the monarchy and a Nepalese republic.
Further intrigue and speculation will no doubt now occur after the King failed to appear on the eve of his birthday to make a scheduled speech. Perhaps most significant was the Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn made a short statement and then his sister, Princess Sirindhorn, also spoke detailing the nature of the King's illness. The Crown Prince is the heir to the throne and has taken on many of the King's duties in recent months. However, many Thais prefer Princess Sirindhorn.
The Thai media is likely to remain tight lipped and continue to write about the monarchy in revered and respectful terms. However, there is likely to be more speculation and reporting in the international media about the role and future of the Thai monarchy. And while the Thai media might be silent there will be no shortage of whispers in Thai society. When those whispers become a roar the face of Thailand may be changed in ways never thought possible.