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Thailand’s King Sees His Influence Fading

Thailand’s King Sees His Influence Fading
Published: May 15, 2010

BANGKOK — A battle over Thailand’s future is raging, but the one man who has been able to resolve such intractable conflicts in the past has been notably silent: King Bhumibol Adulyadej, long a unifying father figure for his nation.
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Andrees Latif/Reuters

King Bhumibol Adulyadej returned to a hospital after marking the anniversary of his coronation in Bangkok on May 5.More Photos »
Slide Show
Violent Clashes Continue in Thailand

Thai Government Takes Harder Stance as Clashes Continue (May 16, 2010)
The Fury Outside My Window(May 16, 2010)
Times Topics: Bhumibol Adulyadej | Thailand

Thailand is convulsed by a bitter struggle between the nation’s elite and its disenfranchised poor, played out inprotests that have paralyzed Bangkok for weeks and now threaten to expand. The ailing 82-year-old king finds his power to sway events ebbing as the fight continues over the shape of a post-Bhumibol Thailand.

“It’s much bigger than the issue of succession,” said Charles Keyes, an expert on Thailand at the University of Washington in Seattle. “It’s a collapse of the political consensus that the monarchy has helped maintain.”

As his country suffers through its worst political crisis in decades, the king has disappointed many Thais by saying nothing that might calm the turmoil, as he did in 1973 and 1992 when with a few quiet words he halted eruptions of political bloodletting.

For more than two months now, demonstrators known as the red shirts, who represent in part the aspirations of the rural and urban poor, have occupied parts of Bangkok, forcing major malls and hotels to close as they demand that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve Parliament and hold a new election. Soldiers and protesters continued battling Saturday.

After taking the throne nearly 64 years ago, King Bhumibol expanded his role as a constitutional monarch without political power into an enormous moral force, earned through his civic work and political astuteness. He has also presided over an expansion of the royal family’s now vast business holdings. With the monarchy at its heart, an elite royalist class grew up including the bureaucracy, the military and entrenched business interests. A palace Privy Council has exerted power during the current crisis.

It is this elite class that the protesters are now challenging.

Those who seek to maintain the status quo have proclaimed themselves loyal to the king and have accused the red shirts of trying to destroy the monarchy as they seek changes in Thai society. For their part, most red shirts say they respect the king but want changes in the system he helped create.

The politicization of the king’s name “has ensured that the monarchy cannot play a central conciliatory role any more,” said Chris Baker, a British historian of Thailand.

More broadly, the divisions in society may have become too deep and the anger too hot to reconcile for years to come. Many analysts say a lasting class conflict has been ignited between the country’s awakening rural masses and its elite hierarchy. With the king confined to a hospital since September with lung inflammation and other ailments, concern about the future has sharpened. The heir apparent to the throne, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, has not inherited his father’s popularity.

But discussion about the succession and about the future role of the monarchy are constricted to whispers and forbidden Internet sites by a severe lèse-majesté law. A 15-year penalty for anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, the heir apparent or the regent” has been broadly interpreted in cases brought against writers, academics, activists, and both foreign and local journalists.

Though it is the protesters who are pressing for change, including some who may see a republican form of government in the future, it is a leading member of the establishment party that now rules Thailand who put the issue into its plainest terms.

“We should be brave enough to go through all of this and even talk about the taboo subject of monarchy,” said Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, in a speech last month that he gave, significantly, outside Thailand at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. “I think we have to talk about the institution of the monarchy, how would it have to reform itself to the modern globalized world.”

He spoke of Britain and the Netherlands as models, with constitutional monarchs who play a largely symbolic role.

On paper at least, those models are not so very different from the system now in place in Thailand. What sets King Bhumibol apart is the aura that surrounds him and the faith among many people that when things are really bad, he will step forward to save them from themselves.

In a way, what some Thais are saying now is simply that it is time for the king’s “children” to grow up and solve their problems themselves.

“There might still be people in Thai society that want to see the king play a role in resolving the crisis,” said Jon Ungpakorn, a former senator and one of the nation’s most vocal advocates for democracy.

“But on the other side, a large section of society realizes that we should not depend on the monarchy for resolving crises,” he said. “If we are to be a democratic system, we must learn to deal with our problems ourselves.”

During weeks of street demonstrations, protesters have assiduously asserted their patriotism. But unlike other protests in the city, there has been a conspicuous absence of portraits of the king. Among both residents of the northeast, the country’s rural heartland, and the red-shirt protesters in Bangkok — many of whom have traveled back and forth in shifts — a new, less reverent tone has quietly crept into conversations.

Krasae Chanawongse, a medical doctor and former government minister in the northeast who is a strong monarchist, laments that “many people are talking about destroying the monarchy.”

But protest leaders insist that they are not challenging the king but the system that is built around him.

“Real democracy would have the king at the top, with no elite class to interfere,” said a protest leader, Nattawut Saikua, in an interview.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had built an electoral base among the country’s poor majority, who also form the base of the red-shirt protesters, threatening the traditional supremacy of the old guard. A coup in 2006 that ousted Mr. Thaksin is believed to have had at least the tacit approval of the Privy Council and other elites who saw the prime minister and his base as a challenge to their power. The red shirts have demanded a new election that could bring back Mr. Thaksin, now abroad fleeing a prison sentence for corruption.

Whoever succeeds King Bhumibol, the veneration and the place the king holds at the heart of Thai society are unlikely to survive him.

“In private discussions people say to each other, ‘What will we do without him?’ ” said a prominent poet who, like many people speaking about the monarchy, insisted on anonymity. “They get disappointed and upset and even scared about the change in the future.”

As he has grown older, concerns have risen about divisions and disputes in society that might erupt once he is gone. It appears now, with the king no longer playing the role he has in the past, that those conflicts are already under way.
เขียนโดย Red Shirts IL ที่ 20:57 0 ความคิดเห็น
Situation Update 5/16/2010
From a Red Shirt friend in Thailand

dear friends:
i am glad chicago reds from thailand were so supportive of the red
struggle at rajprasong.
bangkok is in war situation , it has been for 3 days now.
the military makes two circles trying to block people from going into
rajprasong area.
so people outside and in the cirlcle cannot get into the areas they
wanted. so clashes have occurred for the past 3 days basically the
deaths take place when soldiers shoot from afar to get rid of any
demonstrator. now at least 27 bodies have been found, all except seh
daeng, are civilians. two thirds are killed by snipers. at least 190
while govt spokesman and abhisit came out to insist on circling around
the rajprasong area, claiming terrorists are there and demonstrators
have somany weapons and start the shooting, this is why the war goes
on both day and night.
and because people cannot get into rajprasong area. and people
outside want to help. that is how the first demonstration site
outside rajprasong began at 6 pm saturday April 15. the crowd quickly
grew as more and more people learned about it and reached 10,000 by
The crowd at dindaeng quckly followed since they could not get into
rajprasong and it was also around 10,000 at midnight on saturday
then about 1000 gathered at victory monument. 100 gathered at
Democracy Momunent
some thousands gathered at Samrong, Paaknum, samutprakarn. also at
Patumthani, several thousands gathered.
these are gatherings which became inevitable since all the roads to
rajprasong were blocked.
they are combinations of local residents of bangkok and people from NE
and North who want to join rajprasong, but they couldnot enter so in
these next 3-4 days there would be more and more gatherings at
surrounding areas.
outside in north and northeast, people gather in front of salaklang
everynight watch red TV and listen to local speeches. they do 3
things at least now 1. gathering 2. organizing trips to rajprasong,
and 3. start blocking the police and soldiers to come to bangkok.

we need the world to know what is going on in thailand, it is war in
which the military kills unarmed civilians

เขียนโดย Red Shirts IL ที่ 19:43 0 ความคิดเห็น
Nick Nostitz in the killing zone

Nick Nostitz in the killing zone
May 16th, 2010 by Nick Nostitz, Guest Contributor · 9 Comments

Sitting here at home, I wonder if this day, the 15th of May, has been real, or just a terrible nightmare. Never in my whole life have I been so scared. I thought that I am going to die today.

At lunch time I went to Samliem Din Daeng to observe the protesters there. There were a few protesters around, not more than a few hundred. Lots of debris from last night’s clashes. A burned out military truck, still smoldering. People brought tires to build barricades. A municipal water truck was brought.

After a while the protesters moved the truck along Rajaparop Road towards the military lines, to use as a barricade against army fire. A few protesters moved a few dozen tires to build a barricade. One of the protesters joked around with a slingshot, in front of the cameras of us photographers: “See – that are our weapons against the soldiers”.

[Click on images for larger versions; scroll over for captions.]

The protesters moved the tires further along the road, in front of the Shell gas station near Soi Rang Naam. I positioned myself at the gas station as cover, in case the army would open fire. And straight away the army opened fire. Maybe 5 meters from me, on the road a small group of protesters was stuck behind the tires while bullets passed by. It made a sickening sound when bullets hit the protester who had just joked around with us – in the arm and in the stomach. A few protesters on our side tried to throw a rope over to pull the injured protester to us, but it did not work. The shooting never stopped. Another protester, who tried to crawl away, was hit in the leg and the shoulder. One guy managed to run over to us. I began losing any sense of time. One more of the group managed to cross over to us. Another guy was hit in the arm. After a while the two lightly injured guys ran over to us, one of them falling and crawling into safety. I feared he was hit again.

In the back of the gas station was a toilet, a small temporary safe zone. The guy with the shoulder and leg wounds had only grazing wounds. He, the other protester with the injured arm, and a few journos climbed over the wall. I went back to the old spot, to see what happened with the protesters still stuck behind the tires. One more protester made it into safety, ran across the gas station.

With terror I realized that the soldiers began moving to us. Shots were fired into the gas station. I hid first behind a car parked there, but had a bad feeling that I was in the very wrong spot, and that I had to get out as fast as I could. I ran back to the toilets, about 40 meters, realizing that I was shot at while I was running. My legs nearly gave in. Naked terrible unbelievable fear.

Right after the man with the gut shot was dragged there as well. I took a few photos, and made it over the wall as well. I jumped into a nice garden with a main house and a two wooden side houses. In the back were a few journalists and protesters. The people who lived there gave us water. I saw that at the wall the injured guy was lifted over, and went there trying to help. I heard soldiers running in the gas station behind the wall. The two people who lifted the man over ran towards the house. I couldn’t make it anymore, and pressed myself behind some bushes against the wall. I saw the injured man slip into a small artificial lake at the wall, maybe ten meters besides me.

Behind the wall, at the gas station, I heard soldiers shouting. Some people must have still been stuck in the toilets. Suddenly there was a long burst of gunfire, I saw shells flying over the wall. I heard pleading, shouting and what sounded like boots hitting flesh. I was more scared than ever in my life before, being stuck behind that wall. I prayed that just now nobody would call my mobile phone. I was terrified of the possibility that the soldiers would just fire over the wall as they must have known that people climbed over here.

I heard a soldier giving orders to come out or be shot dead. At first I thought he meant me, but I saw his head over the wall shouting at the man in the pool. I decided that I should make myself known, and shouted that I am a foreign journalist, and to please not shoot me. I shouted several times before the soldier seemed to take notice. I showed my open hands, he ordered me out. I walked towards him, and explained that the man in the water had a gut shot, and a bad shot in the arm. He floated in the pool, his face and stomach barely above the waterline.

The soldier ordered me to pull him out. Another soldier has also jumped over the wall, a third soldier secured from above the wall. While I tried to pull the man out of the water he pleaded, with a weak voice, that he just can’t take it anymore. He was too heavy. I asked one of the soldiers to help me, please. While roughly pulling at the man, he screamed that he should be dead, and because he isn’t they have to take him to the hospital, and that he should die. He walked off.

The injured man slipped back into the pool. The second soldier helped me pull him out, while the first kept on screaming. The soldier on the wall ordered me to take care of the man. I said that I have no idea how – he has a bad gut shot, and lifted the man’s shirt to show the small hole in the stomach. I just knelt down. The man asked me to lift his mangled arm and to turn him on his side as he can’t breathe anymore. I did so, while the man grunted with pain.

The soldiers ordered a stretcher, and ordered me not to take any photos. The first soldier went towards the house. I told him that there are several foreign journalists there. At gun point he ordered them out, and ordered them to carry the injured man out on the stretcher through the door of the compound leading to the gas station. I just sat down at the house, I was nearly fainting, my hands were shaking.

It took a long time to somewhat compose myself. We heard sirens from rescue vehicle coming, and shots fired from the soldiers in the gas station. The people of the compound made us coffee. Ten, a Neow Na photographer, managed to communicate by phone with the outside world, and relayed that we were stuck here – Thilo Thielke, the Spiegel correspondent, a Indonesian camera team, a local photographer for ABC news, me, and a few protesters that were on the spot promoted to drivers of us foreign journalists.

I called my wife and several colleagues on the outside that I was safe. We heard of other journalists having been injured in the mess. The conversations over the phone how to get us out took hours. The gunfire continued for a long time. In the distance, from the direction of the stage area we heard a few M79 explosions. We did not hear any firing from the direction of Samliem Din Daeng. Appearantly the CRES, including the PM, had a top level meeting about us. The people in the compound made us all dinner.The owner of the house came, he spoke fluent German, lived many years there, and worked there about ten minutes walking distance from my dad’s apartment.

When we finished dinner, we were advised to get out from the main door of the compound, through the gas station, and walk towards the soldiers at Soi Rang Naam. We asked that soldiers could please pick us up because we don’t trust to just walk out in the open. The answer was that the soldiers would then be targeted, and they can’t pick us up. We decided that we had to find a way over the back wall. It became dark. We were told that snipers were on all high-rises, and that another, unknown, force may fight the soldiers, and that therefore it would be impossible to pick us up.

There were many more phone calls, and discussions of which way would be safe. Finally, we climbed with a ladder over the wall, where a man picked us up. The gunfire started again, rather close to us, we had to move to a safer spot at a apartment building. After some discussion we decided on the way, climbed another wall into a small Soi. People were around. We asked for the safest route out. At the top of the alley it became dark, really dark. A few Red Shirt protesters were there. We were just under the flyover at Samliem Din Daeng.

Looking out at the Soi on the right, was like staring into the abyss, smoke, and pure darkness into which the flyover disappeared. We turned left, towards Victory Monument. A few people were hiding in the shadows. Soon we came into lighter territory, many locals in front of their houses. When I reached Victory Monument I heard monks chanting. More than a hundred monks sat at the bottom of the monument, praying for an end of the killing. I took a motorcycle taxi home. My motorcycle I had to leave parked in a Soi inside the killing zone.

Tags: Abhisit · Thailand · UDD

1chris beale // May 16, 2010 at 11:03 am

I’d been missing Nick – and was wondering when, or if – he would return. This is Western, on the spot, journalism at its’ best !

Quality comment or not? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

2double OK // May 16, 2010 at 11:04 am

Hey Nick.. hope you are well and be safe.. take care
Quality comment or not? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

3double OK // May 16, 2010 at 11:08 am

by the way..
the VDO version is here.
Quality comment or not? Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

4Jim // May 16, 2010 at 11:19 am
Amazing photos and article..Agree w/ Chris above.. news reporting at its best !

Quality comment or not? Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
5Thailand (Day 3): Army Snipers, Grenade Launchers, Mortars, Civil War? « The Catastrophist // May 16, 2010 at 11:37 am

[…] Nick Nostich was with a group of slingshot-armed Reds manning a barricade: It made a sickening sound when bullets hit the protester who had just joked around with us – in the arm and in the stomach. A few protesters on our side tried to throw a rope over to pull the injured protester to us, but it did not work. The shooting never stopped. Another protester, who tried to crawl away, was hit in the leg and the shoulder. One guy managed to run over to us. I began losing any sense of time… […]

Quality comment or not? Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
6Ricefield Radio // May 16, 2010 at 11:52 am
Glad you are OK. Saw you in a video a while back so knew you were safe then.

I do have one question and you may want to defer it here, but you can always email me the answer. There is a lot of talk by CRES and the PM about the Reds being armed, I’m not talking sticks, stones, bottle rockets, homemade stuff or slingshots but actual war weapons. “Have you seen or had a shot of Reds actually shooting at the Army with war weapons?”

So far there seems to be no pictures in existence, at least not from what I have seen or the people I’ve talked to that are also covering the situation. Even the Post and Nation only have pictures of the Military firing, my thinking is that if there was any they would have them front and center.

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7Nok // May 16, 2010 at 11:52 am
Many of them are not peaceful protesters.

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8Peter Boyles // May 16, 2010 at 11:56 am
Where is M79? Where is machine gun? Where is terrorist? Where is war weapon? We can only see stick, slingshots,stone. The Thai government is full of bastards, big liars, hooligans,terrorists and big bully. The kill innocent people with snipers, who hide themselves on the building and shoot at every passer by. It is time for all citizens to wake up and overturn them. We cannot let this government and those people behind them to stay any longer. The longer we let them stay, the more they will kill innocent people. Normal citizens are no longer important to them any more. The only group that are important to them are soldiers, Democrats Party, yellow-shirt. Those tyrants behind this government will have to be hung.

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9Peter Boyles // May 16, 2010 at 12:05 pm
Let me inform the world that there are much more corpses, much more dead bodies than what the government informed us. Thousand of bags for dead bodies were given to the army to pick up any corpses after they were killed, followed by army trucks. That was the reason why they shot any target to scar away those reporters from taking any picture.

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เขียนโดย Red Shirts IL ที่ 19:31 0 ความคิดเห็น