AFTER THE KING
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.