Sept 24, 2013

"Rama X and Thai Democracy"

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Associate Professor, Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University

The royal transition is imminent. For over sixty years, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been able to consolidate his royal power through his charisma and political acumen. Working indefatigably with the military in expanding and strengthening his own power network, King Bhumibol successfully revived the monarchy into becoming one of the most important institutions in Thailand, constantly in competition with successive governments. But the Bhumibol reign is coming to an end. With his seemingly overwhelming charisma and the continued glorification made possible by the state’s agencies, King Bhumibol is likely to become the source of a failure of his son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

Vajiralongkorn will begin a new reign from a serious deficit in credibility, mainly because of the unsurpassed achievements of his father and partly because of his own troubled past. The only way he could survive and perhaps get a boost in popularity is to become a pro-democracy with certain willingness to reform the monarchy. King-to-be Vajiralongkorn has been unpopular. But this could produce a positive outcome for Thailand and its democracy. His scant interest in politics and lack of popular support poses as a challenge for his reign. This would leave the only choice for Vajiralongkorn—to support democracy for his own survival and that of the monarchical institution.

The speaker will discuss the current Thai crisis with reference to the role of the monarchy, and will touch upon the changes brought about by the royal transition and tips for monarchy’s survival under the new reign.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is associate professor at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University. He is also associate fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Earning his PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, Pavin is the author of two books: A Plastic Nation: The Curse of Thainess in Thai-Burmese Relations and Reinventing Thailand: Thaksin and His Foreign Policy. He is editing the upcoming book: Good Coup Gone Bad: Thai Political Developments since Thaksin’s Downfall to be released at the end of 2013. He is also writing a book on King Ananda and his childhood in Switzerland.


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