Tag Archives: Wachiralongkorn

New Monarchy now less important to Thai Junta than before

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Despite the manic funeral ceremony from Pumipon, the new monarchy in the form of Wachiralongkorn will be less important for the junta and its conservative allies in the future.

King Pumipon was never a powerful figure who could order the military, the capitalists or the politicians to do his bidding. The reality was that Pumipon was merely a willing tool of those in power, especially the military. His role was always to provide a strong ideological legitimacy for the elites and their actions, especially the actions of the army. Pumipon was never brave or resolute enough to be a political leader. His ideological role was not just about defending the military and the undemocratic elites. His reactionary “Sufficiency Economy” ideology was designed to oppose any redistribution of wealth and to support neo-liberalism by opposing state intervention to alleviate poverty. [See http://bit.ly/2oppTvb]

King Wachiralongkorn is even more weak and pathetic than his father. This is because he lacks all credibility because of his terrible behaviour, which robs him of any respect, even among royalists, and the fact that he has absolutely no interest in affairs of state. In terms of providing any legitimacy for the actions of the military or the elites, Wachiralongkorn is not fit for purpose.

So what is the junta going to use to replace the role of Pumipon? One option which they are engaged in right now, is the crafting of the “National Strategy”. This is a set of political and economic rules which will have a higher status than any laws. It will restrict all future governments and government institutions to the narrow path laid down by the junta. It will be policed by the National Strategy Committee, headed by Generalissimo Prayut, various sub-committees filled with junta appointees, and by the military backed Constitutional Court and the Election Commission.

It is claimed that this National Strategy Committee, which is part of the grand design for a system of “Guided Democracy” will ensure good governance and good stewardship of the nation. The junta and its friends have been banging on about “good” people for years. Not surprisingly, good people are those who think and act like the authoritarian generals. So Thailand has had a number of “good” military coups and other “good” acts have included shooting down “bad” unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators.

It is also falsely claimed that the National Strategy can create unity, reconciliation and political reform.

The ruling class, and especially the military, will still cling to, quote and enforce the reactionary ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” and the use of the draconian lèse majesté law will continue when the military and the status quo is criticised by dissenters.

But those in power will now depend much more on quoting the “sacred” National Strategy, as though it had genuine legal status, in order to legitimise suppression of the opposition.

We should not be surprised at the changing role of the monarchy. It has never been set in stone. In the period up to the overthrow of the generals in 1973, King Pumipon was just one factor among many providing legitimacy for the military. Anti-communism and the ideology of “Nation Religion and Monarchy” were the mainstays of the dictatorship. Of course Pumipon was promoted as a symbol of anti-communism. But the manic propaganda promoting him to a god-like status only took off after the communist threat had subsided.

The lèse majesté law is also flexible in its purpose. After the recent military coups it was used more to protect the military than Pumipon and the recent  lèse majesté charge against Sulak Sivaraksa because of a public speech about King Naresuan, who ruled the Ayutthaya Kingdom 400 years ago, shows that it can be used against those who question Thailand’s manufactured nationalist history.  Questioning this history is a threat to the status quo.

In addition to this, the junta has drawn up a law to prevent anyone from criticising the Constitutional Court. Anyone who does this will risk a prison sentence. As already mentioned, the Constitutional Court is to be used to police the National Strategy and in the past it has been used to overthrow elected governments.

In some ways the Thai National Strategy can be seen as similar to Indonesia’s “Pancasila”, which was a set of five guiding principles initiated by President Sukarno and later used to suppress left-wing or religious opposition, especially under the dictator Suharto. Pancasila was also used to repress the rights of populations to break away from Indonesia and to justify a lack of democracy. Pancasila’s so-called legitimacy was based on the need for national unity and order and General Suharto often pointed to the chaos of the early years after independence to justify it. The Thai junta will use the same justification.

Whether or not the Thai National Strategy can become the “New Monarchy” remains to be seen and depends on whether the junta can convince the majority of citizens to willingly accept it. In the meantime, Wachralongkorn will enjoy spending his millions in his palace in Germany and the Thai ruling class will try to keep him out of the limelight.

Read full paper here: http://bit.ly/2xGDiSu 

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Thailand Towards Absolutism? Or Military Guided Democracy? Watch the video

One discussion you will not find at the Thai Studies Conference in Thailand!!

Watch the talk and the debate from Cologne on the 85th anniversary of the 1932 Revolution organised on 24th June 2017 here.

 

This kind of discussion could never be held in Thailand under the military dictatorship or the Lèse Majesté law. The military dictatorship and the new king will be the elephant in the room that everyone pretends not to see during the Thai Studies Conference. So what of substance are the academics at the Thai Studies Conference talking about??

Why is the Thai junta paranoid about pictures and news of king Wachiralongkorn?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Thai junta has warned that anyone who follows, contacts, or shares posts online with three prominent critics – historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, journalist and author Andrew MacGregor Marshall, and former diplomat Pavin Chachavalpongpun – will be prosecuted under the Computer Crimes Act. Why is this happening? To understand this paranoid behaviour we need to look at the role of the Thai king today.

However, latest article about King Wachiralongkorn by my friend Claudio Sopranzetti in Aljazeera is disappointing because it is a sensational and unreal depiction of the awful Wachiralongkorn [see http://bit.ly/2oXtDae ].

Firstly, Sopranzetti claims that the king is trying to wrestle power from the military junta. Nothing could be further from the truth. Wachiralongkorn is on the throne because the military put him there. Like his father before him, he is totally beholden to the military who use the monarchy to justify their own power and “right” to intervene in politics.

The idea that Wachiralongkorn has been increasing his power is also parroted by The Guardian.

When talking about “power”, it is important to understand that it is a concrete thing, not some abstract concept. Political power comes hand in hand with the “power to shape society and politics”.

There was never any evidence that former King Pumipon ever had such power. He never shaped Thai foreign policy or had any influence on the direction of domestic political policies. He could not order military coups because he did not control the military. Pumipon always went with the flow, at times praising Taksin and his government. Pumipon shared his right-wing conservatism with most of the military and bureaucratic elites. It wasn’t his ideas that influenced events. He had no influence on the policies used by the Taksin government to dig Thailand out of the 1996 economic crisis. The anti-Taksin movement which emerged much later was not his creation. The conservatives merely claimed they were monarchists in order to try to obtain legitimacy. Pumipon once told the military not to buy submarines because they would “get stuck in the mud of the Gulf of Siam”, but no one took any notice of him. His “Sufficiency Economy” ideology was repeatedly quoted by the elites, but never acted upon by anyone. [See more here:  http://bit.ly/2oppTvb ]

Wachiralongkorn is less politically aware than his father, being completely uninterested in Thai society and politics. There is zero evidence that he is trying to wrestle power from the military in order to influence domestic political policy or foreign policy. [See also http://bit.ly/2kBwOlm ]

Secondly, Sopranzetti, and other commentators, can only raise the issue of Wachiralongkorn’s insistence on amending the constitution in areas that merely affect the organisation of the royal household, as an example of his quest for “power”. But Wachiralongkorn merely wanted to control his personal household staff and ensure that when he spent a lot of time in his palace in Germany, someone wouldn’t appoint a regent over his head without his approval. This is hardly an example of Wachiralongkorn amassing power to rule over the Thai population. As I have previously written, “Wachiralongkorn wants the Crown, but not the job”. He isn’t interested in the slightest in Affairs of State. His only interest is in his own “affairs” with numerous women, some of whom have been promoted to high army ranks. He also once promoted his former dog to an air force rank.

Wachiralongkorn’s so-called “power” is much more akin to that of a petty local Mafia boss who wishes to protect his patch.

As for the so-called “fear” factor, it must be frightening for those in his immediate household circle to serve such a self-centred and erratic boss. But a WikiLeaks episode some years ago exposed the fact that many high-ranking generals viewed Wachiralongkorn with irritation bordering on contempt.

Thirdly, Sopranzetti claims that the student activist Pai Daodin was jailed under the lèse-majesté law as soon as Wachiralongkorn became king, implying that Wachiralongkorn had something to do with it. This is conspiratorial nonsense. Pai Daodin is a pro-democracy activist and constant thorn in the side of the military junta. They were itching to get him for months and when he shared the BBC’s biography of Wachiralongkorn on social media, it was just the excuse they were looking for. We need to remember that hundreds of other Thais shared the same article but have not been charged with lèse-majesté.

Finally, Sopranzetti fails to understand that in order to be able to use the present and past king as a legitimising figure in their class rule over the population, the military and elites have to give them something in return. Since the image of the monarchy is there to protect the elites, the monarchy acts like a guard dog with all bark and no bite. But guard dogs need to be thrown a bone every day to keep them in line. The bone thrown to the Thai monarchy is the immense wealth given to them, the freedom for them to live their lives as they please, and the willingness of the elites to pamper the royal ego by grovelling on the floor in front of them and pretending to be under the dust of their feet. This latter bit of theatre is for the benefit of ordinary citizens while real power is in the hands of the elites.

Just like the top bosses of most religions who claim to speak on behalf of non-existing gods, the military claim to speak on behalf of the monarchy.

In addition to this, in order to make this trick work, the monarchy needs to appear to be worthy of some respect. Yet Wachiralongkorn’s personal life style makes this difficult. That is why the exiles   Somsak Jeamteerasakul, Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Andrew MacGregor Marshall, have been singled out by the junta for publishing 2016 photos from Germany, of the tattooed Wachiralongkorn with his skimpily dressed girlfriend. They have also published news of his latest escapades. This poses a danger to his credibility to be a monarch in the eyes of most Thais and they are  therefore a threat to the military.

Discrediting the monarchy is useful in undermining the junta, but when taken to extremes, sensational stories about the royals tend to titillate people who are bored with reality while having little benefit in explaining the nature of Thai political society. Most importantly, they add nothing to the discussion about how to overthrow the dictatorship and build democracy through mass movements. Focusing only on the royals lets the military and their anti-democratic allies off the hook.

Why is there no “power vacuum” in Thailand?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

For years many Thai and Western commentators incorrectly claimed that King Pumipon was a powerful monarch who controlled the military, the judiciary and the civil service. If this were true, then there would be a serious power vacuum in the country today, months after the king’s death.

The fact of the matter is that no such power vacuum exists.

This important fact should be a wake-up call for academics and commentators to reassess their flawed analyses. Yet there has been total silence from those who once claimed that Pumipon was an all-powerful monarch.

Why is there no power vacuum today in Thailand?

It cannot be that Pumipon is still controlling things from the grave!!

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No one with any intellect would try to explain it by saying that Wachiralongkorn had stepped in as the new King and was now exercising power instead of his dead father. As a clueless playboy, Wachralongkorn has the unenviable task of trying to behave in a regal manner. He was put on the throne by the military and conservative elites and he is totally beholden to them in every way, just as his father before him was beholden to them.

Of course the powerful elites have to throw Wachiralongkorn a few expensive bones to keep him sweet, including pandering to his vicious and demented whims, when it does not affect their power, and also giving him an enormous amount of wealth which was originally created by poverty stricken working people.

One of his whims is to spend most of his time outside Thailand, in his palace in Munich. This is what lies behind his demand to change the junta’s constitution so that he has flexibility in appointing others to sign laws on his behalf (or not) while he has a fun time abroad. Yet some misguided folk try to paint this as “royal meddling in politics”. The truth is that demanding to amend the military’s awful and authoritarian constitution to suit his personal lifestyle, is of little overall significance to the present state of democracy. It merely reflects the fact that he cannot be bothered with the tedious ceremonial duties of kingship and doesn’t want to live in Thailand. He wants the Crown, but not the job.

In some ways, the intermittent “exile” of Wachiralongkorn may be a good thing for the military and the elites. He can be out of the lime light when he lives abroad, causing less scandal, while the military can keep on using the monarchy for their  own legitimacy.

To understand why there is no power vacuum in Thailand today, we have to understand the nature of the Thai ruling class and the source of its power.

Power at the top of society comes in two major forms: naked coercion and ideological legitimisation. Examples of naked coercion are the actions of the ruling class’ security forces. In Thailand this has included gunning down pro-democracy activists in the streets, numerous military coups and the use of the courts, the lèse majesté law, and the prison system to muzzle dissidents.

The Thai ruling class is a poisonous and vicious patron client network which draws in new recruits to its “elite feeding trough”, where fortunes are to be made at the expense of the hard-working poor. During Pumipon’s life, this vast parasitic organism maintained its legitimacy by creating a false image of the King as an all-powerful god and benefactor to “his people”.

The high profile ideological status of the King started from his systematic promotion by the military dictator Sarit Tanarat. Therefore the increasing importance of the monarchy after its initial overthrow in the 1932 revolution was closely connected to the need have an ideology to counter Communism in order to protect the status quo.

The use of “Nation, Religion and King” as a conservative ideology, where the King symbolised the “heart of the nation”, the head of religion and the embodiment of “all that is Thai”, has remained central to Thai ruling class ideology to this day. Socialisation of the population using this ideology is an attempt to create a population loyal to the generals, the top officials and the rich. Gross inequality is an integral part of this ideology.

The Thai ruling class, which is made up of the army, the capitalists and high-ranking officials, are a modern ruling class: conservative, anti-democratic and barbaric. It is not the King who is in charge of this bunch of thugs. It is they who use the symbolic role of the King to protect their interests. Therefore army generals, politicians, businessmen and privy councillors prostrate themselves on the ground and pay homage to the monarchy in order to protect the vital false images which underpin their ideology. Many have mistaken this play act as a sign of royal power. But this is only a shallow analysis.

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There is no power vacuum today because the ruling class, especially the generals, have not lost their naked power of coercion in any way. In fact the demobilisation of opposition to the dictatorship by the Red Shirt leadership has only strengthened the power of the junta. In addition to this, the ruling class are still coasting along, using up the reserves of their royalist ideology left over from Pumipon’s time. However, at some point they will have to recharge their legitimising ideology. How they actually achieve this will be an important question on their minds given the real nature of the new king. For now they are hoping that fixing the political system into a 20-year straight jacket will ensure that their interests are protected.

Tanks don’t solve the problem of flooding!

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Generalissimo Prayut has been scaring little children and telling them not to listen to “bad people” who spread anti-junta views.

The General scaring kids
The General scaring kids

No doubt he doesn’t want us to believe that elections will be postponed beyond 2018. Yet all his appointed representatives who pass laws and write constitutions according to the junta’s diktat are tying themselves in knots about the junta’s so-called “road map” for political anti-reforms and the future anti-democratic elections.

Their road map is beginning to look like a road map to nowhere, a bit like the severed roads in the flooded south.

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There is no let up in the rain at the moment and the people in the south are suffering as a result.

Anusorn Tamjai, an economist from Rungsit University, has estimated that the serious flooding in the south will cause up to 120 billion baht’s worth of damage to the economy of the region. Three hundred thousand families have been affected and there have been over 20 deaths. Amazingly, this economist had the courage to suggest that the junta might postpone the purchase of weapons for the bloated military. People have been asking questions on social media about the 50 Chinese tanks which have been bought at the expense of investing in flood affected areas and at the expense of building better railways and other useful public projects.

The Thai military has only used its tanks and weaponry to stage military coups and to suppress pro-democracy protesters in the streets. The military’s weaponry is the material basis of its illegitimate political power.

Yet the over-confident and authoritarian buffoon who is Prime Minister has blamed ordinary people for the flood crisis. Prayut said that the people didn’t listen and move to higher ground. He boasted that since he became head of the army almost ten years ago he has been “solving” problems caused by flooding.

It is also good to know that King Wachiralongkorn is concerned about the people. It was announced, in true royal mumbo-jumbo, that the Privy Council had “invited” the King’s wishes to be made public.

Wachiralongkorn is so concerned about others that he kept hundreds of graduates at a university in Chiang-Rai waiting for hours because he turned up late to the degree ceremony. He eventually arrived with his disgusting little white mutt trotting behind him. The ceremony ended around mid-night. Exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun commented that His Majesty was running on “Munich time”, a reference to HM’s preferred residence. Wachiralongkorn probably only came back to Thailand to collect his crown and is now itching to get back to his “palace” and “women” in Germany. So much for his devotion to the Thai people!

The devastation caused by flooding in Thailand is a result of a lack of infrastructural investment, poor living standards and a lack of a welfare state for citizens. It is the military junta and the conservative anti-democrats who are the neo-liberal extremists in Thailand. They have long opposed any state funding to modernise Thai society and reduce inequality. They have supported the overthrow of democratically elected governments that sought to make minimal changes to the situation. They have also made sure that neoliberal fiscal discipline is written into the constitution. It is they who are guilty of causing the present flooding crisis.

The “road map” to a military “guided democracy” is designed to keep society in this backward deep-frozen state.

Twenty years of military dominated politics in store

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

As the year 2016 draws to a close we can look forward to years of military dominated politics. The “20 year National Strategy”, set down by the junta and its hireling law-makers, is designed to position the military jack-boot firmly on the back of any “elected” government in the future. Government policies will have to conform to this backward National Strategy, no matter what the electorate desire and naturally the National Strategy is royalist and neo-liberal. Of course the term “elected” is a very impressionistic description, since any future elections will be designed to obtain the “best” result, allowing for a weak puppet government palatable to the military.

But the so-called elections are in the far-distant future because king Pumipon conveniently died a few months ago, allowing the military to spend millions on the ceremonies associated with his death, which are being used to whip-up royalist mania. Pumipon’s death will allow the whole political process to be put on ice. There will not be any elections in 2017. They probably will be postponed to late 2018 at the earliest, and if the military appointed rubber stamp assembly doesn’t finish its drafting of terrible laws, the election could be rescheduled into 2019.

The junta’s draft political party law shows that they want to put political parties in a straight-jacket. Naturally anyone wishing to set up a party will be vetted, in best authoritarian traditions and any party which doesn’t fit the junta’s requirements will be disqualified.

The law raises the level of punishment for “selling” political positions to ridiculous extremes. People could be executed for doing this!! But naturally, no punishment for wrong-doing applies to non-MPs who become Prime Minister. This is just in case the Generalissimo were to be invited to this top position once again in the future.

What is more, this draft law stipulates that political parties must have a minimum of 500 founding members who each pay at least 2000 baht to the party. This amount of money represents about 25% of what most workers earn in a month. So the poor farmers and ordinary workers cannot possibly found a political party. Once again we see the results of “A Coup for the Rich”!

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In 2017 we shall continue to see the grotesque play act of men in military uniform pretending to grovel to the demented king Wachiralongkorn in a pathetic attempt to make us believe that they are “taking orders” from this imbecile. Word has it that Wachiralongkorn has appointed a number of his women to high-ranking but powerless military positions, which no doubt will have to be funded by the public. However, in an honest moment Wachiralongkorn said that his heart was warmed that General Prem Tinsulanon was re-appointed as head of the Privy Council. Without experienced generals on the Privy Council, the clueless king would not know how to best serve the ruling class. But the Privy Councillors need to be patient as Wachiralongkorn is a slow-learner.

Meanwhile the repression and censorship continue. The new “Computer Censorship and Democratic Crimes Law” has passed the junta appointed parliament and government control of the internet is set to further increase with the future introduction of a “single internet gateway”. There has been sporadic opposition to these measures, but the dictatorship needs to be overthrown in its entirety  in order to fully achieve freedom of speech.

It has been made “serious crime” to “like” or “share” the BBC Thai service’s web post of Wachiralongkorn’s biography, despite the fact that most Thais already know the truth. The whole of the ruling class and society are to be set in an official state of denial. “Lèse-majesté” is designed to silence the truth about royalty and the military. Loyalty is to tell lies. Freedom is Slavery! Ignorance is Strength! Dictatorship is Democracy!

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But there is some good news. His Excellency, Generalissimo Prayut has been awarded the position of “Great Political leader of exercise” by the World Health Organisation, for his participation in outdoor aerobics! Well this is according to junta sources anyway. It is difficult to independently verify the truth about this, but since the junta is made up of self-declared “good people”, we ought to trust them, I’m sure.

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At the risk of repeating myself, the fact of the matter is that without building a mass social movement to overthrow the military, the terrible state of Thai politics will continue. Remember that the middle-classes and the conservatives are totally responsible for this state of affairs and the NGOs also played their part in the destruction of democracy.

As 2016 changes to 2017, spare a thought for Thailand’s lèse-majesté political prisoners, especially Somyot Pruksakasemsuk.

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The struggle for a Thai democratic republic continues

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The appointment of the odious Wachiralongkorn as Thailand’s new king is a public declaration by the Thai ruling class and the military dictatorship that the abuse of women is something to be celebrated. Once again the monarchy is a stain on Thailand’s reputation. See http://bit.ly/1vQ1War

Back in 2009, I wrote a short article about what would happen when Pumipon eventually died. It is worth a brief revisit…

I wrote that “when Pumipon dies, the army and the conservative elites will hold a gigantic and very expensive funeral for him. Resources which ought to go to building welfare and raising wages will be used for this. Extensions of other King activities could take the whole thing to ten years! Pictures of the King will increase even more”.

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The reason for the huge funeral events, before and after the actual cremation, is in order to shift the propaganda machine into an even higher gear. The conservative elites are desperately trying to promote and re-promote the ideology of the monarchy. Anyone who opposes the military, or the authoritarian elites and anyone who campaigns for democracy, is being accused of lèse-majesté and of trying to “overthrow Pumipon”. The fact that he is dead is of little consequence. He is the symbol of the monarchy.

The junta is using lèse-majesté against people who share the BBC Thai biography of Wachiralongkorn. For the dictatorship truth about the monarchy is a threat. Ignorance is Strength, Freedom is Slavery.

Right now, the extremely unpopular and disrespected Crown Prince is being shifted on to the Throne. He will be under the larger than life picture of Pumipon. We will never be able to forget Pumipon and his so-called “wonderful works”. Extra-long King’s anthems, with Pumipon’s pictures, are being played in cinemas and Pumipon’s birthday on 5th December will still remain a public holiday. We will see the Crown Prince, but the words “Pumipon” will be blaring out from real and virtual loud speakers.

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After Pumipon, the powerful military remains. The uniforms, tanks and guns have not disappeared. The raw and repressive power of the conservative elites rests with the army. But the generals and the extreme royalist middle-classes are uneasy because their sole former source of legitimacy for their destruction of democracy has died. That is why they will extend the “Pumipon activities” for as long as possible. This will include ceremonies to refer to him as the “Great King” (Maharaj) and the building of more ugly monuments.

If it was true that Pumipon “united and held the country together, creating peace”, as trashy Western journalists love to claim, then Thailand would now be descending into violent chaos. This is not happening. The military and the conservative elites are still in power. What is more, under Pumipon Thailand has been in political crisis since 2006 and it was in chaos in the mid-1970s. Pumipon was the opposite of a unifier or a creator of peace and happiness. The only thing he did in his role as monarch was to try to create stability for the military and the conservatives.

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After Pumipon, the generals now pretend to go to the palace and “receive orders” from the new king, or even claim that he is approving their actions from his huge villa in Germany. Occasionally, when it is some minor and rather silly issue, the generals will follow the Wachiralongkorn’s requests just to keep him happy and compliant. But on all important matters of policy, they will be merely informing him of their decisions.

The picture below illustrates the military’s gigantic play acting involved in using Wachiralongkorn for their own purposes. The generals crawl on the ground to create the myth that the king is all powerful. Then they do what they want in his name and repress anyone who doesn’t knuckle-under.

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If the Crown Prince is hated and despised by many Thais, why has the military promoted him to be the next King? If Pumipon was all powerful, why did he not appoint his favourite child, the Princess, as his heir to the Throne? The answer is that Pumipon was too cowardly to decide anything. The military appointed the Crown Prince because their false claim that the monarchy is steeped in “ancient tradition” would collapse by any deviation from such an appointment. The Princes is unmarried by life-style choice and has no heir. Not only that, changing the succession, because the Prince was unsuitable, would mean that the monarchy could always be changed and even be abolished.

Unfortunately Taksin has sown idiotic illusions among many Red Shirts that Wachiralongkorn will be a liberal monarch. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing that Wachiralongkorn will be liberal about is helping himself to our money so that he can enjoy himself.

After Pumipon, the work of those who want a republic will not be made easier. The King’s death will provide opportunities and dangers. We have seen that the royalists have become more desperate and dangerous. But the legitimacy of the junta and its supporters can be attacked. Democracy does not fall from a branch like a ripe fruit. We have to organise to reach up and pick it and at the same time, reach up and pull down the conservative elites and their entire authoritarian system.