- By Charles HomansCharles Homans is a special correspondent for the New Republic and the former features editor of Foreign Policy.
In May, Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok temporarily became a war zone, with rural populist "red shirts" opposed to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva fighting pitched battles in the streets with government forces. The fighting was the other shoe dropping after the 2006 military coup that deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a politician who was venal and not especially democratic but was nevertheless immensely popular with Thailand’s rural poor. Thaksin’s ousting was seen as the work of the urban Bangkok elite, and Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej was widely suspected to have had a hand in it, or at least given his tacit consent, despite the Thai royal family’s traditional neutrality in the country’s politics.
That’s the backstory to a series of U.S. State Department cables the Guardian is reporting on (but hasn’t released) this morning, which allege that Queen Sirikit, Bhumibol’s wife, had a hand in the 2006 coup. Samak Sundaravej, who briefly served as prime minister during the chaotic post-coup years, tells U.S. diplomats that Sirikit
was indirectly "responsible for the 2006 coup d’état." … Samak also claimed, the cable writers add, that Sirikit had a hand in the "ongoing turmoil generated by PAD protests", a reference to the mass protests by the royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy which have contributed to the downfall of several Thaksin-associated governments since 2006.
Samak alleged the queen "operated through privy council president Prem Tinsulanonda who, along with others presenting themselves as royalists, worked with the PAD and other agitators", according to a report by US ambassador Eric John, within a cable from October 2008.
The Guardian adds that "there is no mention in the cables of any coup involvement by King Bhumibol himself," but that they do report that shortly after the coup, "Bhumibol called the leaders of the coup to his palace for a meeting the evening after Thaksin was ousted and was ‘happy, smiling throughout.’"