After 17 years of working with Reuters, mostly in Thailand, Andrew MacGregor Marshall quit. Reuters had copies of the Wikileaks documents and some three thousand of those were about Thailand. It did not dare to publish them as they contained a lot of information that could be interpreted as being negative about the king and the royal court. Thailand has severe Lèse Majesté laws. In Thailand anyone can accuse anyone of derogative talk about the king and the royal court and the result can be up to 15 years of prison. Reuters feared for its work and staff in Thailand.
But he does a lot more than that. He sets those cables into detailed and lucid political and historic context in a four part Thaistory: "Thailand's Moment Of Truth - A Secret History Of 21st Century Siam". Part one, about 100 pages long, is now available for free. It is a good, at times even amusing, and easy read.
We once had a reader here, John Francis Lee, who lives in Thailand. In 2007 I posted a piece by him, A Thailand "Write Up", which included this fawning part:
HM the King of Thailand, Bhumipol Adulyadej, had already been King for a year when I was born. Most Thais know no other King. Everyone loves the King, myself included. He's seen 15 coups and 19 constitutions come and go. He's the only one in Thailand perceived to be above the self-serving mass of bureaucrats and politicians and generals that carry on the spectacle of government here.
The Wikileaks papers and Thaistory prove that the king is not above politics at all, but that he, his privy council, his family and the royal court are essentially running the country by pulling strings, replacing top figures as they feel needed and secretly devising policies that the government in charge, military junta or elected civilian, will feel urged to implement.
Thailand is a dictatorship, an absolute kingdom where some people still literally throw themselves on the ground in front of royals, with a democratic facade. This is well known in academic and media circles in Thailand. But the Lèse Majesté laws prevent any open and public reporting or discussion about it.
The religious political cult around the person of King Bhumibol, who was born in the United States where his parents studied medicine and lived in Switzerland before becoming king of Thailand, was build on purpose and not without support from the various U.S. services. During the cold war the king helped to keep Thailand strongly on the U.S. side. Thailand was a main U.S. base during the Vietnam war. Up to today the king, through his hard right leaning privy council and the military, has a hand in preventing even mildly socialist/progressive policies. Thailand today is also part of the U.S. war on Muslims as the royal house is bolstering, if not inciting, Buddhist Thais in a smoldering conflict against Muslim-Malay living in south Thailand.
Several times when Thais elected governments that were leaning to the left, the military, prodded secretly by the king, intervened. When the right-wing yellow shirts initiated a color revolution against the elected government and red-shirt supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra's party, the king also indirectly intervened and the court system then abolished the government and a new right-wing coalition took over. (In 2008 I wrote about this in The Coup Attempt in Thailand)
The king is now 82 and ill. As Thaistory explains in detail there is a deep conflict within the royal family of who is to follow him.
I had only a hunch of that with little proof when I wrote in comments to the Coup piece:
I think it is more of a succession fight. The king is near death and its mostly General Prem [head of the privy council], who has his own agenda, speaking for him.
The crown prince had/has good relations with Taksin and less good with the army. General Prem and the establishment does not want him to become king and prefer his princess sister who lectures at a military academy and is more of a manipulable figure than the lively crown prince.
The Wikileaks cables, as laid out in Thaistory, now confirm that take.
Whoever will follow king Bhumipol will likely have difficulties to reach his cult-like status as a "neutral" leader. This and the now public cables and Thaistory will lower the standing of the royals and their surrounding establishment. That will probably open a real chance for Thais to convert their system into something genuinely democratic one.
Posted by b on June 24, 2011 at 08:54 AM | Permalink
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