The New York Times carries an op-ed by David Streckfuss. It is titled “In Thailand, a King’s Coup,” and we guess it will be blocked here in Thailand before too long.
We are not sure we agree with all of it, but will comment later.
Update: Streckfuss is like everyone else. He’s reading royal and military tea leaves and trying to work out what is going on. We can’t do anything different. His hypothesis seems to be that the the changes the king demanded of the junta’s constitution might represent a slap to the military. We are not so sure.
He’s not entirely right when he says that one changes “allows the king to name a regent to act on his behalf, including when he is traveling outside Thailand. This strips the Privy Council, a royal advisory group known to support the junta, of its traditional authority to act in the king’s place on such occasions.”
This isn’t correct. In previous constitutions, the king has had the right to appoint a regent. The change that impacts the Privy Council is that the new constitution removes the Privy Council President’s role of acting as regent when there’s a void. Grand old political fiddler General Prem Tinsulanonda may not like that, but he’s frail and on the way out.
There’s also the capacity for the king to nominate a person or a group to act as regent. We are not sure how this might work.
Another change is that the king doesn’t have to appoint a regent when he’s (often) away. That is giving him a power he didn’t have before but which is an acknowledgement that the new king intends to be away a lot.
Most of the other changes are a rolling back to earlier arrangements.
Then there’s the hypothesis that the king has a political “clean slate” and that this may result in some kind of association with a more democratic Thailand, as Streckfuss has it, the king might “foster a somewhat more open political atmosphere…”.
Don’t hold your breath. For a start, the prince-cum-king does not have a “clean slate.” Anything but. He has been manipulative in events since his father became unable to do much. Think of his efforts to have the now disgraced Jumpol Manmai made police chief.
To date, over 64 years, PPT hasn’t seen any evidence that Vajiralongkorn is going to be a democratic king. We would be very surprised if he turns out to be this, but we’d welcome that almost as much as a democratic republic.
There’s no doubt that Streckfuss is right when he sees the proclamation of the junta’s constitution on Chakri Day as significant. But what, exactly, is the significance? Is it that constitutionalism resides in the monarchy? Is it that “[t]ying the promulgation of the Constitution to Chakri Day is significant …[as it] seems to signal that constitutions are a gift to the people from the monarchy…”.
That’s also a misreading. In fact, royalists have made this point since 1932. That’s why Thailand has the daftly rendered King Prajadhipok Institute, as if the king targeted in 1932 was the real founder of democratic constitutionalism in Thailand. That certainly is an ideological misrepresentation.
We can think of another rendering: if the constitution was granted by the king and on Chakri Day, will it constitute lese majeste if anyone criticized it or wants to change it?
(We must add that Streckfuss is wrong that the previous king criticized the lese majeste law.)