Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents -

With the death of Thai­land’s King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej, what does the fu­ture hold for the coun­try?

Thai­land’s mil­i­tary regime main­tains its com­mit­ment to a Novem­ber elec­tion next year

C loaked in the un­bro­ken black of Thai­land’s tra­di­tional mourn­ing wear, mil­i­tary strong­man-turned Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha walks to­ward a weekly cabi­net meet­ing at Bangkok’s Gov­ern­ment House. More than two years af­ter seiz­ing power in a coup that ousted a civil­ian gov­ern­ment paral­ysed by six months of po­lit­i­cal crises, the for­mer com­man­der in the King’s Guard stares down the cam­eras as the ar­biter of the nation’s fate af­ter long-reign­ing monarch King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej passed away last month fol­low­ing years of fail­ing health.

With the late king’s death has come a new era of un­cer­tainty in a coun­try wracked by coups and fleet­ing con­sti­tu­tions for the bet­ter part of a cen­tury. Seek­ing to dis­pel ru­mours that the widely beloved monarch’s pass­ing would throw the promised Novem­ber 2017 gen­eral elec­tion into doubt, gov­ern­ment sources re­port­edly told lo­cal Thai me­dia in late Oc­to­ber that the re­turn to democ­racy would be un­af­fected by the coun­try’s loss. For those scep­ti­cal of the junta’s will­ing­ness to re­lin­quish even a mod­icum of their po­lit­i­cal might, though, the pos­si­bil­ity of a vote be­fore the corona­tion of Crown Prince Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn and the end of a year-long mourn­ing seems re­mote in­deed.

The way back to democ­racy – al­beit in a con­strained form – was set by a grudg­ing pop­u­lar vote ear­lier this year on the new mil­i­tary-drafted con­sti­tu­tion, a con­tro­ver­sial doc­u­ment that has en­sured Thai­land’s 250-seat se­nate will be fully stocked with those ap­pointed di­rectly by the mil­i­tary regime, grant­ing them a de­ci­sive role in the run­ning of the coun­try, re­gard­less of which gov­ern­ment the peo­ple should elect. With voter turnout at just 55%, an af­fir­ma­tive vote barely scrap­ing 60% and all cam­paign­ing in favour of the draft’s re­jec­tion out­lawed by the junta, the doc­u­ment can hardly be in­ter­preted as a glow­ing en­dorse­ment of the regime.

Should the promised gen­eral elec­tion go ahead as sched­uled one year from now, it is this po­lit­i­cal di­vide, briefly buried be­neath the nation’s grief, that will test the regime’s re­solve in re­turn­ing power, one way or an­other, to the Thai peo­ple.

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