No one may talk about the king and the king’s not talking

No one may talk about the king and the king’s not talking

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya touched the third rail of Thai politics in a speech in Washington on Monday: 

“I think we have to talk about the institution of the monarchy, how it would have to reform itself to the modern globalised world,” Kasit Piromya, the foreign minister, told a seminar in the US.

Criticizing the monarchy in Thailand carries some stiff sentences,  and while Kasit wasn’t foolhardy enough to go that far, the government is already distancing itself from his comments. 

But the incident also brings up another questions, where has King Bhumibol Adulyadej been for the last few weeks? As the Financial Times reports, his stature has certainly not diminisehd amid the chaos in Bangkok: 

Even the red-shirted anti-government protesters who are presently demonstrating in the streets of Bangkok and who are often criticised by their opponents as a republican fifth column, halt their protests twice a day, at 8am and 6pm, to stand at attention and listen to the royal anthem as it plays over the city-wide public address system.

The king generally reluctant to get involved in politics — which is a good thing — but he has occasionally intervened in tims of political crisis. With the crippling protests in Bankok showing no signs of abating and few credible political leaders to help resolve the situation, this might seem like a perfect time for His Majesty to step in. 

The bigger longterm issue, which Kasit seemed to be hinting at, is that that the 82-year-old monarch’s health is fading and his son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn reportedly doesn’t have the same credibility. Given the current state of Thai politics, it might be time to make some institutional changes so that these deus ex machina interventions are no longer necessary.