Richard Bern­stein

Thai­land: The Per­ma­nent Coup

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Richard Bern­stein

A few weeks ago, Ma­ha­won Kawang, the op­er­a­tor of a small ra­dio sta­tion in the an­cient Thai city of Chi­ang Mai, got a phone call from the Na­tional Coun­cil for Peace and Or­der, also known as Thai­land’s mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment, invit­ing him to the lo­cal army base for a “con­ver­sa­tion.” Ma­ha­won went. To ig­nore an in­vi­ta­tion from the NCPO is a crim­i­nal of­fense, usu­ally pun­ished by six months in jail. There were seven mil­i­tary of­fi­cers present at the meet­ing, he told me, plus a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Thai­land’s broad­cast­ing author­ity. They were friendly and po­lite; there was no rough­ing him up or any threat to do so, but the mes­sage was none­the­less force­ful and clear. Ma­ha­won had com­mented on the air about a del­i­cate topic in Thai­land, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of a large Bud­dhist sect on sus­pi­cion of money laun­der­ing, and they wanted him to stop.

“They told me that this would cause so­cial trou­ble,” he said to me through a trans­la­tor, “and if I do that again, my ra­dio sta­tion will be closed down.” Such is life in Thai­land more than three years af­ter the NCPO took power in the coup d’état of May 2014, re­plac­ing a demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment whose base of sup­port was an enor­mous pop­ulist move­ment gen­er­ally known as the Red Shirts.

I first met Ma­ha­won about three months af­ter the mil­i­tary seized power. His was one of many Red Shirt sta­tions whose ex­is­tence re­flected the strength and ex­cite­ment gen­er­ated by what had quickly be­come the most pow­er­ful grass­roots move­ment in Thai his­tory, formed by Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra, a charis­matic but also wor­ry­ingly au­to­cratic bil­lion­aire. Thaksin, who was prime min­is­ter from 2001 un­til he was over­thrown in a coup in 2006 and has since lived in ex­ile, dom­i­nated Thai pol­i­tics un­til the coup of 2014, mo­bi­liz­ing a new elec­toral ma­jor­ity made up mostly of the ru­ral poor in the north and north­east of the coun­try whose fer­vor for him re­flected their be­lief that be­fore him they had been ne­glected, and af­ter him they had power.

And so when the 2014 coup took place, it was peo­ple like Ma­ha­won— lo­cally in­flu­en­tial, ar­tic­u­late, and re­source­ful—who at­tracted the at­ten­tion of the new mil­i­tary author­i­ties. When I first met him, he’d been re­leased from a week of in­vol­un­tary res­i­dence at the lo­cal army can­ton­ment, where he’d signed a vow of non­re­sis­tance to avoid the con­fis­ca­tion of his bank ac­count. While he didn’t wel­come the coup, he con­ceded that the gen­er­als had put an end to the bit­ter po­lit­i­cal tur­moil that had en­gulfed Thai­land for months at a time.

He also pre­dicted, as did many oth­ers, that the Red Shirts rep­re­sented a pow­er­ful new force in Thai­land that wouldn’t go qui­etly away. In 2010, tens of thou­sands of Red Shirt pro­test­ers had oc­cu­pied cen­tral Bangkok in a pro­longed act of dis­obe­di­ence that, af­ter fu­ri­ous, vi­o­lent clashes with the po­lice and the army, brought about the re­moval of a pre­vi­ous non­elected gov­ern­ment. Ma­ha­won be­lieved that the Red Shirts would do some­thing like that again if the army stayed in power too long. In fact the present junta has man­aged to stay in power, and it’s done so, it seems, with rel­a­tive ease—there have been no Red Shirt up­ris­ings or other se­ri­ous protests against it—and its treat­ment of Ma­ha­won, which could be thought of as a kind of soft but none­the­less Big-Brother­ish re­pres­sion, is one of the main ways it has been able to do so.

“Un­der the po­lite­ness was co­er­cion,” Ma­ha­won told me of his re­cent “con­ver­sa­tion.” His liveli­hood was at stake. He was alone and pow­er­less, fac­ing the uni­formed rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the junta, so he signed a let­ter of un­der­stand­ing in which he promised to avoid so­cially trou­ble­some top­ics, and af­ter a few hours he went back to work. He now plays mu­sic on his ra­dio sta­tion, and he re­stricts his com­ments to safe sub­jects.

It wasn’t sup­posed to be this way in Thai­land, a coun­try of nearly 70 mil­lion peo­ple that since the end of World War II has been both a close Amer­i­can ally and a hoped-for model of demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment in South­east Asia. In the early 2000s the growth rate was be­tween 5 and 7 per­cent. A coun­try that’s had thir­teen or so mil­i­tary coups in the past eighty-five years and that’s al­ways been plagued by cor­rup­tion can’t be called a suc­cess­ful democ­racy, but Thai­land al­ways re­turned to civil­ian rule, held freely-con­tested elec­tions, and had a lively press, an ed­u­cated mid­dle class, and a long-serv­ing king, Bhu­mipol Adulyadej, who pro­jected an im­age of Bud­dha-like good­ness while defin­ing him­self as the “pro­tec­tor of democ­racy.” Mak­ing a demo­cratic sys­tem work seemed the col­lec­tive na­tional am­bi­tion.

Thai­land hasn’t lost all of that in its re­cent years of mil­i­tary rule, but this junta seems de­ter­mined to be dif­fer­ent from jun­tas past, to leave a more per­ma­nent mark. Dur­ing its time in power, three events or trends can be iden­ti­fied that, taken to­gether, mark a strik­ing dif­fer­ence in con­tem­po­rary Thai­land. One of them is in for­eign pol­icy, in which, as the po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Thiti­nan Pong­sud­hi­rak has writ­ten, the gen­er­als have “tilted” to­ward the Chi­nese, who are nearby, have deep pock­ets, and, un­like the United States and Europe, don’t pester them about their vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights—which, I was told more than once by in­formed Thais, the gen­er­als find deeply an­noy­ing. This tilt, ac­cord­ing to Thiti­nan, “has im­per­iled the tra­di­tion­ally deft Thai bal­anc­ing act be­tween ma­jor pow­ers.” Sec­ond, last year, the ground al­most seemed to quake in Thai­land when King Bhu­mipol died af­ter seventy years on the throne, and his son, sixty-five-yearold Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn, suc­ceeded him. Va­ji­ra­longkorn, who lives most of the time in Ger­many and is widely viewed as a deca­dent play­boy, does not com­mand the uni­fy­ing re­spect that his fa­ther en­joyed, and this has in­tro­duced an el­e­ment of un­cer­tainty about the fu­ture. In fact the old king, es­pe­cially in his later years, doesn’t seem to have done much to pro­tect Thai democ­racy, but he had the rep­u­ta­tion of a ruler who cared deeply about the wel­fare of his peo­ple. Va­ji­ra­longkorn doesn’t.

Third, and per­haps most im­por­tant, this junta, un­like past ones that took over and then stepped away, leav­ing lit­tle per­ma­nent trace, has taken a se­ries of mea­sures in­di­cat­ing that it in­tends to hold on to power in­def­i­nitely, whether di­rectly or in­di­rectly. Sev­eral times al­ready, Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-o-cha, pressed by the United States and by lo­cal pub­lic opin­ion, has promised to al­low elec­tions and to re­store civil­ian con­trol. Most Thais seem to think that, even­tu­ally, the prom­ise will be kept. But the mil­i­tary has now rigged the sys­tem, largely through the adop­tion of a new con­sti­tu­tion that will leave gen­er­als es­sen­tially in con­trol of any par­lia­ment that might be elected. In other words, there will in all like­li­hood not be a re­turn to full democ­racy in Thai­land, at least not any­time soon. It takes a long time to trans­form a po­lit­i­cal cul­ture, and in Thai­land, that cul­ture in­volves an al­most au­to­matic in­vo­ca­tion of per­sonal free­dom. It’s easy to find peo­ple who are an­gry and im­pa­tient with the mil­i­tary, and wish­ful that the new king would en­cour­age a re­turn to demo­cratic norms. “We’re not China,” one lo­cal jour­nal­ist told me. She was re­spond­ing to my ob­ser­va­tion that, de­spite the tight­ness of mil­i­tary con­trol, peo­ple seem un­afraid to express their views. Var­i­ous civil so­ci­ety groups, like the Thai Lawyers for Hu­man Rights and the dis­sent­ing news web­site Prachatai, are able to op­er­ate with­out se­ri­ous ob­struc­tion (though one of the dozen or so mem­bers of the lawyers’ group has been charged un­der Thai­land’s lèse-ma­jesté laws).

Why was Ma­ha­won si­lenced while Prachatai con­tin­ues to pub­lish? There is some mys­tery to this, though some Thais I spoke to be­lieve that the mil­i­tary, know­ing that wide­spread bru­tal­ity would alien­ate many Thais, strives for a kind of sur­gi­cal re­pres­sion. A per­son like Ma­ha­won speaks to a pro– Red Shirt au­di­ence, the main source of po­ten­tial vi­o­lent op­po­si­tion, while Prachatai is read mostly by in­tel­lec­tu­als and the mid­dle class. “We’re used to things like free speech and a free press, and we want them back,” the jour­nal­ist said.

But Thai­land is shift­ing, be­com­ing more like its neigh­bors. In­deed, one quip among Thais is “We’re be­com­ing Myanmar,” which is said in rue­ful recog­ni­tion of some dis­com­fit­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties—most im­por­tantly that Myanmar suf­fered un­der mil­i­tary rule for decades, and that even though it has held elec­tions and re­turned to civil­ian gov­ern­ment, its mil­i­tary still ex­er­cises pre­dom­i­nant con­trol. At the same time, China has cul­ti­vated close ties with both Thai gen­er­als and parts of the busi­ness elite. Last year, ig­nor­ing sharp protests from the US and Europe, the Bangkok gov­ern­ment ac­ceded to a Chi­nese de­mand that some hun­dred Uighurs who were ask­ing for asy­lum in Thai­land be re­turned to China; they were brought to the air­port with hoods over their heads. China has re­cently sold a sub­ma­rine to the Thai navy at a re­port­edly dis­counted price, with an op­tion for two more, and $87 mil­lion worth of ar­mored per­son­nel car­ri­ers to its army, and it is ask­ing Thai­land to co­op­er­ate in some of the huge projects in­volved in the vast in­fra­struc­ture-build­ing pro­gram that China calls One Belt One Road—in­clud­ing a high-speed train be­tween Kun­ming in Yun­nan Prov­ince and Bangkok.

This may not re­ally mean that the United States is in re­treat. Re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries re­main ex­ten­sive and var­ied and in­clude the mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary ex­changes that have been part of Thai–Amer­i­can co­op­er­a­tion since the Viet­nam War, when Thai­land was home to at least seven ma­jor Amer­i­can air bases. But China is ad­vanc­ing, which gives many Thais the feel­ing that Amer­i­can in­flu­ence is de­clin­ing. More­over, with a pres­i­dent in the White House who seems to have a soft spot for au­thor­i­tar­i­ans, the forces push­ing Thai­land in a demo­cratic di­rec­tion are weak­en­ing, and this brings with it a melan­choly feel­ing that the

coun­try’s dif­fi­cult, stormy, and some­times even suc­cess­ful ex­per­i­ment with mul­ti­party democ­racy is be­ing qui­etly aban­doned.

Noth­ing il­lus­trates the turn to­ward au­thor­i­tar­ian meth­ods more strik­ingly than the mil­i­tary’s in­creased use of Thai­land’s lèse-ma­jesté laws—which make it a crime to in­sult mem­bers of the royal fam­ily—as a tool of the harsher re­pres­sion that ac­com­pa­nies the gen­tler in­vi­ta­tions to mil­i­tary bases to talk. Ac­cord­ing to iLaw, a non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion that keeps track of po­lit­i­cal pros­e­cu­tions in Thai­land, eighty-two peo­ple are known to have been charged with of­fenses un­der these laws since the present gov­ern­ment took power, and sen­tences of up to sixty years have been meted out—though re­duced to thirty years in ex­change for a guilty plea by the de­fen­dant.

The capri­cious ef­fect of the mil­i­tary’s use of these pros­e­cu­tions can be seen in the case of Thanakorn Siri­pai­boon, a fac­tory worker who was twenty-seven years old when he was ar­rested at home at the end of 2015. His of­fense, ac­cord­ing to Thai hu­man rights groups, was to have clicked the “like” but­ton on a Face­book post that made what were deemed to be sar­cas­tic ref­er­ences not to the king him­self, or the queen, or the crown prince, but to Tong­daeng, the late dog of King Bhu­mipol, about whom the monarch once wrote a best-sell­ing book (in which the dog emerged, para­ble-like, as a model of proper obe­di­ence and rev­er­ence for royal author­ity). Thanakorn, out on bail of about $15,000 and await­ing a mil­i­tary trial, faces a max­i­mum sen­tence of thirty-seven years in prison. “If they can’t find one way to get a per­son, they’ll find an­other way,” Anon Nam­pha of Thai Lawyers for Hu­man Rights told me. He gave the ex­am­ple of a thirty-two-year-old op­tometrist from the north­ern city of Chi­ang Rai named Sar­avut—his last name has been with­held—whose crime was to have posted a pic­ture of the new king, Va­ji­ra­longkorn, while the then crown prince was strolling through a Mu­nich shop­ping mall. The pic­ture was drawn from a video that went viral on YouTube last year in which the crown prince could be seen wear­ing close-fit­ting jeans and a cut-off T-shirt re­veal­ing what looked like mo­tor­cy­cle gang tat­toos on his arm, back, and stom­ach. Va­ji­ra­longkorn, who has been mar­ried and di­vorced three times, is seen in the video in the com­pany of a woman. Sar­avut spent thirty-eight days in prison be­fore be­ing able to post bail; he is await­ing trial.

Ly­ing be­hind such pros­e­cu­tion is what the mil­i­tary per­ceives as an urgent need to be seen as de­fend­ing the monar­chy, which it equates with pa­tri­o­tism. There is an al­most cult-like qual­ity to this. The kings’ pic­tures are ev­ery­where in Thai­land, the old king’s and the new one’s. (Or as one Thai put it to me, the good king and the bad one.) Ride the Bangkok el­e­vated Sky­train, and be­tween sta­tion an­nounce­ments and video ads for face cream will be rev­er­en­tial memo­ri­als to King Bhu­mipol—the kind and car­ing fig­ure who en­abled “all Thais to have the same fa­ther” and who will “live for­ever in our hearts.”

Pic­tures of Va­ji­ra­longkorn, whose for­mal coro­na­tion will take place over sev­eral lav­ish days this fall, have been put up at gov­ern­ment build­ings, schools, mil­i­tary en­camp­ments, traf­fic cir­cles, bus stops, air­ports, and train sta­tions. He wears an elab­o­rate goldem­broi­dered cloak or a white, be­medaled mil­i­tary tu­nic with epaulets, a look of stern­ness and com­mand on his face. This ap­proved im­age of the new king clashes with the wom­an­iz­ing, fast­car-driv­ing, spoiled-rich-kid rep­u­ta­tion he acquired when he was crown prince, which no doubt ex­plains the pros­e­cu­tions of peo­ple who sim­ply post pic­tures of the tat­tooed jet­set­ter on Face­book. The lèse-ma­jesté laws in this sense are not only a way for the mil­i­tary to en­force its author­ity but also a kind of pro­pa­ganda de­vice, a way of drop­ping an un­wanted im­age down the mem­ory hole while man­u­fac­tur­ing the de­sired one.

Ex­alt­ing the monar­chy is one goal of the junta. An­other is to pre­vent a resur­gence of the Red Shirt move­ment. It’s hard to know how much in­flu­ence Thaksin, the Red Shirt supreme leader, re­tains. Clearly, he stays in touch with his al­lies in Thai­land. Ma­ha­won told me that he’s vis­ited him in ex­ile twice. More­over, some­what para­dox­i­cally, some of Thaksin’s poli­cies re­main in ef­fect, in­clud­ing a uni­ver­sal health care pro­gram and cash dis­burse­ments to vil­lage coun­cils to use as they see fit.

There’s no doubt that Thaksin ben­e­fited from a fa­nat­i­cal loy­alty in his ar­eas of sup­port, and prob­a­bly still does, but he was re­viled and feared else­where, es­pe­cially by the mem­bers of what was called the Bangkok elite— roy­al­ists, the mid­dle and up­per classes, fac­tions in the mil­i­tary, and the royal es­tab­lish­ment—who saw him as a po­ten­tial elected dic­ta­tor, a sort of Thai Putin who was us­ing his of­fice for per­sonal gain and per­sonal ag­gran­dize­ment, and putting rel­a­tives and friends in im­por­tant po­si­tions. He also car­ried out a war on drugs, sanc­tioned by the king, with what hu­man rights groups said was mur­der­ous force—some 2,500 al­leged drug deal­ers were said to have been killed by po­lice.

The anti-Thaksin forces be­came a ri­val mass move­ment to the Red Shirts known as the Yel­low Shirts—yel­low be­ing the color of the monar­chy. And for years, Thai pol­i­tics re­peated a ba­sic pat­tern: the Thaksin party would win an open, free elec­tion, the Yel­low Shirts would take to the streets in par­a­lyz­ing protests against the elected gov­ern­ment—once shut­ting down Bangkok’s in­ter­na­tional air­port, an­other time forc­ing the prime min­is­ter to aban­don his of­fice—which would lead, whether by coup or some other means, to the re­moval of that gov­ern­ment, and then the cy­cle would re­peat it­self when the Thaksin party won new elec­tions.

The last phase of the cy­cle, which was chaotic and some­times deadly, came in 2014, three years af­ter Thaksin’s sis­ter, Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra, be­came prime min­is­ter, win­ning the last elec­tions to have been held in Thai­land. It was she who was re­moved at the end of a se­quence of tu­mul­tuous events that in­volved new, highly dis­rup­tive Yel­low Shirt protests and, fi­nally, the seizure of power by the junta and Gen­eral Prayuth. In 2014, af­ter the over­throw of Yingluck, a prom­i­nent Thai pub­lic fig­ure, who asked not to be named, told me that where Thaksin was con­cerned there were only two pos­si­bil­i­ties: an as­sas­si­na­tion or a coup.

In ad­di­tion to the sum­monses for “con­ver­sa­tions”—which them­selves re­veal a com­pre­hen­sive in­tel­li­gence net­work and a lot of mon­i­tor­ing of so­cial me­dia—the mil­i­tary keeps things un­der con­trol by such mea­sures as a ban on all po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ings of more than five peo­ple and a clause, known as Ar­ti­cle 44, in a pro­vi­sional con­sti­tu­tion adopted af­ter the coup that makes law­ful any mea­sure that Prayuth deems nec­es­sary to “strengthen pub­lic unity and har­mony.” Tri­als of for­mer Red Shirts for their par­tic­i­pa­tion in past demon­stra­tions that turned vi­o­lent are un­der­way, and sev­eral of the move­ment’s most prom­i­nent lead­ers live in ex­ile. In ad­di­tion, Yingluck is be­ing pros­e­cuted for al­leged neg­li­gence in a gov­ern­ment rice-pur­chas­ing pro­gram dur­ing her ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Her pros­e­cu­tion may prove a risk for the junta. When­ever she has ap­peared in court, hun­dreds of peo­ple—de­fy­ing the ban on po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ings of more than five peo­ple—turn up to show their sup­port. Yingluck is at­trac­tive and tele­genic. In her last court ap­pear­ance at the be­gin­ning of Au­gust, she de­clared her­self to be a “vic­tim of a deep po­lit­i­cal game,” which seemed a plau­si­ble sum­ming up of her sit­u­a­tion.

The wide­spread as­sump­tion was that Yingluck would be found guilty, but on Au­gust 25, the day the ver­dict in her case was sup­posed to be an­nounced, she failed to ap­pear in court and was re­ported to have fled the coun­try, for­feit­ing nearly one mil­lion dol­lars in bail. Her sur­prise depar­ture was a new twist in the Shi­nawa­tra drama that has trans­fixed Thai­land for years, though it could be a gift to the junta, which faced the risk that putting Yingluck in prison would prompt new Red Shirt protests. Still, with the ver­dict post­poned un­til the end of Septem­ber, the un­cer­tainty prompted by her case re­mains un­re­solved.

“There will be a time when the peo­ple can’t stand it any­more,” Ma­ha­won told me. “I know peo­ple who are ready to go fight. They are wait­ing for the right time. I don’t know when that will be, but it will be soon.”

Con­trast­ing with this pre­dic­tion is the view that the Red Shirts are a spent force, their en­ergy sapped by the ex­ile of their most fiery lead­ers, the long ab­sence of Thaksin, and the ag­ing of their rank and file. “This is a coun­try that has over­thrown many dic­ta­to­rial gov­ern­ments,” Kraisak Choonha­van, a for­mer sen­a­tor from the Demo­crat Party, Thaksin’s main pre-coup op­po­si­tion, told me. “Peo­ple are ready to die. How­ever, you al­ways had a core lead­er­ship with hard-core sup­port­ers, and the mass built around them, but these sup­port­ers are no longer there.”

What will hap­pen? The mil­i­tary has many de­trac­tors, not just for­mer Red Shirts, but mid­dle-class in­tel­lec­tu­als, jour­nal­ists, aca­demics, and oth­ers. Some of these peo­ple may not have liked Thaksin, but they ac­knowl­edge that he was demo­crat­i­cally elected; they ab­hor the hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions be­ing com­mit­ted by the mil­i­tary, and they want it to re­lin­quish con­trol. Prayuth and the junta have vowed to do this, and the ex­pec­ta­tion is that they will—per­haps af­ter the coro­na­tion of the new king. “The mil­i­tary knows not to over­stay its wel­come,” Pan­i­tan Wat­tanayagorn, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Chu­la­longkorn Univer­sity and a se­cu­rity ad­viser to the gov­ern­ment, told me. “If they do, they will be in trou­ble.”

But Pan­i­tan spoke also of the fear of tur­moil that com­petes with the fear of per­ma­nent mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment. Thai­land seems caught in a kind of “pre­car­i­ous limbo,” as Thiti­nan has put it, be­tween the wish for an end to mil­i­tary rule and a fear that if the mil­i­tary does step down and new elec­tions are held, there will sim­ply be a rep­e­ti­tion of the past six­teen years, with all of their chaos and blood­shed. The great­est ter­ror for Yel­low Shirts and their sup­port­ers would be a re­turn of Thaksin to power, and it must be re­mem­bered that he or a stand-in for him, in­clud­ing Yingluck her­self, has won all four elec­tions held in Thai­land since 2001. Given that, it’s hard to see how the ob­jec­tive of erad­i­cat­ing Thaksin’s in­flu­ence can be squared with a restora­tion of a demo­cratic sys­tem.

So the gen­er­als have de­vised a kind of guided democ­racy based on the new con­sti­tu­tion. Un­der it, the mil­i­tary will ap­point the en­tirety of the up­per house of a bi­cam­eral leg­is­la­ture, which means it would be im­pos­si­ble for any laws to be passed or for a prime min­is­ter to take of­fice with­out the gen­er­als’ ap­proval. The new con­sti­tu­tion also man­dates su­per­vi­sory coun­cils to mon­i­tor gov­ern­ment depart­ments.

It might work, but that’s far from cer­tain. Peo­ple who say it will work point to the abil­ity of the mil­i­tary to get the con­sti­tu­tion passed by a 61 per­cent ma­jor­ity in a ref­er­en­dum last year. Peo­ple who say it won’t point to the fact that ad­vo­cates of a “no” vote in the ref­er­en­dum were not al­lowed to cam­paign, that the turnout was low, and that sev­eral prov­inces in the north and north­east (Thaksin’s strongholds) voted against it, de­spite a blan­ket cam­paign by the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment to per­suade peo­ple to vote yes. Since the abo­li­tion of the ab­so­lute monar­chy in 1932, Thai­land has had thir­teen coups, in ad­di­tion to six at­tempted but un­suc­cess­ful mil­i­tary takeovers. There have been twenty con­sti­tu­tions or char­ters. No civil­ian gov­ern­ment has ever lasted more than a few years with­out fall­ing to mil­i­tary con­trol, and no mil­i­tary coup has re­sisted pres­sure to re­turn the coun­try to civil­ian rule. That’s been the pat­tern of Thai pol­i­tics. —Au­gust 30, 2017 This re­port was sup­ported by the Pulitzer Cen­ter on Cri­sis Re­port­ing.

A por­trait of Thai­land’s King Va­ji­ra­longkorn at a shop­ping mall on the eve of his sixty-fifth birth­day, Bangkok, July 2017

For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra with sup­port­ers out­side the Supreme Court, Bangkok, Au­gust 2017

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