More power to the king

Reuters recently had a story about unconstitutional constitutional amendment made “constitutional.”

Oddly, the report makes the claim that the amendments demanded by King Vajiralongkorn were “requested.” Even more oddly, the authors of the report mistakenly believe that the draft constitution is “military-backed.” In truth, it is the military’s constitution. While it is true that this charter “is a vital part of the ruling junta’s plans to hold a general election” but it seems they are wrong in assuming that that sham election will be held “at the end of this year.” No one thinks that likely (not even the rest of the report).

The most bizarre notion in the report is that the “election” will “return Thailand to democratic rule following a 2014 coup.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The junta is determined to ensure that electoral democracy does not return and that it and future military leader retain control of the state.

The report states that this royal “intervention is rare for a sitting Thai monarch, who are granted limited formal powers but wield significant political influence.” Perhaps the Reuters writers need to read The King Never Smiles, even if it is banned in royalist Thailand.

The Economist is much better on what is actually going on.

It begins by noting that the “ruling junta … has been cooking up a constitution which it hopes will keep military men in control even after elections take place.” It notes that the charter went to a “referendum made farcical by a law which forbade campaigners from criticising the text.”

The report explains the changes demanded by the king:

The generals say the palace has asked them to amend a rule which requires the monarch to nominate a regent when he leaves the kingdom (probably because King Vajiralongkorn plans to spend much of the year reigning from his residences in Germany). They also say they will revise an article which makes the constitutional court the final arbiter at times of political crisis—a role which had traditionally fallen to the king—as well as an article which introduced a requirement for some royal proclamations to be countersigned by a minister.

The notion of “tradition” is false – in fact, it is the military that has usually been the “final arbiter.” These amendments are likely to cede far greater power to the new king.

On his intervention, the report states:

Under King Vajiralongkorn’s father the palace preferred to maintain the fiction that Thailand’s monarchy holds a symbolic role which is “above politics”, even while it meddled energetically behind the scenes. The bluntness of King Vajiralongkorn’s intervention—and the determination it reveals to resist relatively small checks on royal power—is both a snub to the junta and a worry for democrats, some of whom had dared hope that the new king might be happy to take a back seat in public life.

The report raises constitutional questions about the intervention. It says the interim constitution “allowed for the king to reject the draft constitution in its entirety but appeared not to provide for the possibility that he might ask to strike out lines he did not like.”

Interesting times, again, and a developing story that will further define some of the relationship between the junta and the king. As he showed as a prince, the king is likely to continue his erratic behavior as king. It is likely that getting his way now will encourage increased interventionism.

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