Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lèse-majesté in Bangkok

A great story in the Economist’s 23 July edition about politics in Thailand with the world’s longest-serving monarch King Bhumibol, aged 88,  in hospital and sadly unlikely to return. A difficult time for a country divided between the yellow shirts (crudely, urban elite and royalists) and red shirts (rural, Thaksin supporters). The Army is currently in charge.
Whether it comes in weeks or years, the king’s passing will be more than a milestone. His death may set loose centrifugal forces that a coup in 2014 sought to contain, but seems destined in the long run only to aggravate. Below the surface, Thailand is deeply fractured. […]
Notably, the junta has made draconian use of Thailand’s law on lèse-majesté, which provides for long prison terms for anyone deemed to have spoken ill of the king, queen or heir-apparent. Facing growing anti-establishment sentiment in the provinces among people who feel that an urban alliance has conspired to disenfranchise them, the authorities have presided over a big rise in the law’s use over the past decade, with imprisonments rising sharply after the 2014 coup. […]
 Whatever one thinks of Prince Charles in terms of succession planning, Thailand has it worse: 
The 63-year-old crown prince, Vajiralongkorn, is spoilt and demanding, and—to put it mildly—widely loathed. Three times divorced, he spends a lot of time abroad, often in Germany. In 2007 leaked video footage showed him and his then-consort, who was wearing nothing but a G-string and heels, holding a lavish royal party. The only guest appeared to be Foo Foo, his poodle, which before dying in 2015 enjoyed the rank of air chief marshal. One of the prince’s more generous critics calls him “a loose cannon”. 
“To put it mildly—widely loathed” is brilliant. I would love to know whether this edition of the Economist was on sale in Thailand last week.

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