The fundamental problem underlying the succession is that Thailand has few royalists, but many many Bhumibolists.

A Bhumibolist is one who loves and respects Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand. Hard royal work, great propaganda, and frequent use of lese majeste laws assure that the vast majority of Thais are Bhumibolists.

Love and respect for Bhumibol Adulyadej does not necessarily mean respect for the royal institution, including the constitutional succession and the constitutional prerogatives and responsibilities. In fact, a true Bhumibolist will grant him extra-constitutional prerogatives, under the assumption that the wise king can do no wrong, even though it might be unconstitutional. His interventions in 1976 and 1992 are good examples of this, as are his rejection of coups in the 1980s and his acceptance of other “righteous” coups. Many, but not all, Bhumibolists also bow before the extra-constitutional prerogatives of his network monarchy, specifically, the Privy Council. Privy Council chairman General Prem Tinsulanonda’s interventions prior to the 2006 coup are a controversial example of this. The continuing political role of the network monarchy will test some Bhumibolists, but will not reduce the core adoration that most feel for Bhumibol himself. Most Red Shirts are Bhumibolists, even though nearly all of them reject the role of the network monarchy.

Currently, Bhumibolists can claim that they are royalists, but the true test will be when he passes away. Will his extra-constitutional prerogatives pass on to his successor? Will the extra-constitutional powers of the network monarchy also be passed on? Or will Thailand’s 60 million Bhumibolists suddenly transform into strict monarchists, demanding that their monarch strictly abide by his constitutional responsibilities?

Only time will tell.