It is usually a brave person who ventures too close to the furnace of Thailand’s succession politics. Not only is reliable information about who will follow King Bhumibol difficult to obtain, but there is also a commonly voiced sentiment that the issue is, for many commentators, simply too hot to handle.
Nonetheless, when pressed for an answer it is common for some of us to speculate about the influence of succession politics in the ongoing crisis. The prevailing assumption is that Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has become the (almost) undisputed heir to Thailand’s Chakri throne.
The general consensus, as summarised by The Economist, is that:
The crown itself should pass smoothly. The designated male heir is Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, aged 57, and there is not much scope for doubt about his claim…The death of King Bhumibol would also signal a generational shift in Thailand: younger voices could start to be heard.
A few years ago this consensus was more brittle and, in fact, I recall a time when many commentators (including Andrew and I, among others) wrote consistently of “lingering uncertainty” within the palace about succession. For a number of reasons the current consensus, as summarised by The Economist, and given a nuanced treatment elsewhere, strikes me as potentially problematic. One reason for my caution has its roots in history. The place of competing “king-makers” in Thailand’s long-term politics is a topic that has been on my mind ever since Thongchai Winichakul’s fascinating presentation in London shortly after the 2006 coup.
Is it reasonable to assume that the effort to portray the Crown Prince as the inevitable successor should be treated on its superficial merits? Indeed, I fail to see how the constant and hysterical attacks on the Red shirts over the past few years could be strategic unless there is significant fear, among Thailand’s highest echelons, that the succession plan (whatever it is) will be interrupted by Thaksin-aligned politicians.
Comments from readers on this issue are very welcome. I don’t pretend to have any clean or clear answers but I do feel that it is important that commentary on these matters is better informed. Perhaps we can all work together to help understand this dynamic situation.
To begin that task I want to ask: Who are the “king-makers” at the end of King Bhumibol’s reign? Can we assume that the Crown Prince is still the designated successor? Do our answers to those questions leave open alternative, and equally convincing, interpretations of the current conflict?