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Courting Disaster: Can Thailand’s Monarchy Survive Democracy?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand celebrated the 60th anniversary of his accession to the throne in June 2006, millions of Thais descended on Bangkok to join in the festivities. The king seemed to be at the height of his popularity. Beyond his considerable talents as a musician, painter and inventor, he had dedicated his reign to improving the welfare of the country’s most disadvantaged. Seeing the sight, foreign journalists had to concede the king was beloved by all Thais. In short, the legacy of Bhumibol’s reign seemed all but assured.

Indeed, there was much to celebrate in mid-2006 not just for the king, but for the country as a whole. Over the previous decade, Thailand had survived the economic crisis of 1997 and come out roaring. It had paid off its debts to the International Monetary Fund years before scheduled and emerged as Southeast Asia’s economic powerhouse. Politically, it had fought its way out of decades of dictatorship and was now a vibrant democracy with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. Its press was recognized as one of the freest; in its Press Freedom Index of 2004, Reporters Without Borders ranked Thailand a very respectable 59th out of 167 countries in the world. Even the number of cases under Thailand’s draconian “lese-majeste” law had slowed to an all-time low, averaging fewer than two cases per year between 1999 and 2004. ...

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