Nicholas Farrelly and I have an article on ABC The Drum Unleashed. Here are the closing paragraphs:
Many in Thailand … may be hoping that Thailand’s long-reigning king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, will intervene and talk some royal sense into the combatants as he famously did in May 1992 after more than 40 protesters had been killed on the streets of Bangkok.
But, in 2010, this is unlikely to happen again.
Quite apart from the king’s extremely fragile health, the palace has made it clear since the 2006 coup that it sides with anti-Thaksin forces. When the anti-Thaksin yellow shirts occupied Bangkok’s international airport in November and December 2008, they did so under an explicit royal banner with all of the protections that such palace endorsement implies. By contrast, the prospect of royal intervention to save the red shirts from the wrath of the military is now remote.
In fact, some are starting to wonder out loud if Thailand’s monarchy is now, in fact, part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Decades of national faith invested in an unelected monarch as the ultimate source of authority and salvation in times of crisis has stunted the development of robust democratic institutions. Thailand has put too many eggs into the royal basket and now lacks the institutional wherewithal to constructively resolve political divisions.
There is considerable truth to the old joke that Thailand is the world’s longest lasting fledgling democracy, and that truth owes much to the fact that the symbolic power of the monarch has overshadowed opportunities for elected politicians to manage national affairs.
When the shooting and burning in Bangkok finally subsides Thailand is going to have to rebuild faith in its basic democratic institutions. Cultivating a more respectful attitude to the political choices of its many rural inhabitants would be a good place to start.