Despite growing popular demand (and demonstrations) the government refuses to support any constitutional amendments that limit the power of the king. The new king was unpopular during the many decades as an impatient playboy crown prince. When this crown prince became king, he did not disappoint and has faced growing popular opposition ever since. Royalists fear the behavior of the new king will do permanent damage to the monarchy. This is just one more problem the military has created. Fears that the next political opposition movement would call for the elimination of the monarchy proved to be accurate. This was not really possible until the current king took power and made it clear he was different and not in a good way. Unlike his predecessor, the new king already had an unsavory reputation. To make matters worse the new king made a deal with the military government that would, in theory, benefit both of them in the long run. First, the former crown prince assured everyone that he would behave, at least with regard to the military. In return the military government freed the monarchy from constitutional and parliamentary restrictions that were part of the 1932 deal that turned a threatened absolute monarchy into a more popular constitutional one. The military government was changing the constitution when the old king died in 2016 and that presented a rare opportunity for the new king to gain more power for the monarchy. The generals needed the backing of the king because they justified their 2014 coup by claiming they were doing it to protect the monarchy. The old king was not enthusiastic about that but had learned to stand back. In 2016 the military got their new constitution ratified in a referendum and the king approved it in early 2017.
The king is also restoring royal palaces and other properties that had long been used as tourist attractions. No more. The king is not only expanding the number of properties owned and operated by the monarchy but is demanding absolute obedience. Those who disobey or otherwise annoy the king are dismissed or worse. He has ordered symbols of the 1932 revolution/coup/compromise, that created the constitutional monarchy, to be eliminated, often secretly without any acknowledgement of royal involvement. The flaw in these moves is that most Thais know what really happened in 1932 and are angry about a clueless new king trying to reverse and rewrite history.
The king has made his situation even worse by living in the German Alps for most of 2020. He took over hotel for himself and about a hundred staff and family members. This began after covid19 became a crisis last March. The king made one quick (24 hour) trip back to Thailand in April to take care of some royal business but has otherwise been ruling the country from a German hotel where he and his entourage are the only guests. Germans and Thais have protested this arrangement but the king has ignored that. That has led to expatriate Thais organizing anti-royalist demonstrations outside the royal hideaway in Germany. This became big news in Europe, much to the embarrassment of the Thai royalists and the government they created.
The majority of Thais are pro-democracy and are relentless in their efforts to restore their power without triggering a civil war. A major goal of the democrats is a return of local elections. These have not been held since the 2014 coup and resuming the local elections is one thing nearly all Thais can agree on. Those elections were supposed to be held in 2020 but the military dominated government is trying to use covid19 to push the vote into 2021. That pressure worked and recently December 20th elections were announced. The military knows that the local elections will simply spotlight how unpopular the military has become. That ill repute is not fading away. Local elections would also remove the many replacement local officials appointed while the military was in charge.
The current elected pro-military government is behaving much like the former unelected military government. For example, the new government is using compliant courts to terrorize journalists using jail terms for fabricated offenses and getting opposition political parties outlawed the same way. This ensures that the civil war between the military/royalist coalition and democrats continues. The more the military tries to suppress the democrats the more anger they generate among the majority of Thais who do not want to be ruled by the military. The generals realized they were in trouble after the March 2019 elections showed the democrats winning more votes than expected. The pro-democracy parties attempted to form a coalition government but lost out to a slightly larger coalition assembled by the pro-military parties. This close call for the new military dominated government led to the current policy of terrorizing individual critics (real, suspected or imagined) and litigating suspect organizations out of existence. Methods include trying to arrest and prosecute key pro-democracy politicians on false charges and disrupt pro-democracy activity in parliament.
November 10, 2020: The covid19 recession has hurt the Thai economy and done a lot of visible damage to the recent prosperity most Thais expect any elected government to help maintain. The current pro-military government seems more interested in maintaining their power than preserving the prosperity most Thais cherish more than any king or constitution. GDP is expected to decline over seven percent for 2020 and the government seems unable to make basic decisions to get economic growth going again. The growing poverty is visible with more homeless Thais in the streets and unemployed Thais gathering to protest. Difficult economic problems are another reason why the military does not want to take over again. Historically the economy always underperforms when the military wa s running the government. The current covid19 recession is not just shrinking the economy but may take a while to recover after that because t ourism , and related activity, is normally about 20 percent of the Thai economy and one activity that will take longer to recover from the virus panic. The government sees the unemployment rate peaking at over 25 percent and fears how long that will last. In late 2019 it was estimated that the economy (GDP) would grow nearly three percent in 2020. Now it is clear that eliminating GDP losses depend s on how long it takes to get the tourists back. Exports of manufactured goods is already increasing but that cannot make up for the tourism losses. All this is catastrophic for a country that has long had an unemployment rate of one percent or less. Particularly hard hit is the south, which depends a lot on tourism and where the less educated majority Moslem population always had a higher unemployment rate. The government has begun to ease economic restrictions and let people get back to work.
November 9, 2020: The head of the military insisted there would not be another coup. His logic is that another coup would be against the most pro-military constitution Thailand has ever had. That constitution was approved before the 2014 coup recently ended. Most Thais don’t believe this logic and consider the threat of another coup realistic and that some fundamental changes have to be made in Thailand to limit the power of the military. This is something the military has always feared and now that worst case seems to be getting closer than ever before. There have been eleven military governments in the last four decades and 19 coups or attempts since 1932 and the introduction of democracy. The monarchy tended to remain neutral in these disputes but clearly favored democracy over a military dictatorship. The royal family, the Chakaris, was founded by a general who seized the throne in 1782 partly to bring peace in a time of great chaos. Since then the Chakaris have survived by avoiding stupid mistakes. That may be changing as the military government created by the 2014 coup created more problems than it solved. Thais fear the new (since 2017) king will be the opposite of his father and end up being one of the “bad kings” and perhaps even the 10th and last king of the Chakari dynasty.
In October 2016 the 9th Chakari king Bhumibol died at 88 after a record 70-year reign. His successor, an unpopular crown prince, made a deal with the military to expand royal power in exchange for not interfering with military efforts to obtain veto power in a new constitution. Most Thais believe king Bhumibol would have never tolerated this if only because it was his father that agreed to a constitutional monarchy in 1932 and established a very beneficial, for the monarchy and most Thais, new form of government. Back in 1932 the army persuaded the king to give up absolute power and avoid a civil war. Since then there has been a constitutional monarchy and the military has considered itself the guardian of the monarchy. But the monarchy did not encourage military government and the 2014 coup government sought to make it easier for coups to happen in the future by giving the army more power in a democratic government. Most Thais are tired of coups and have demanded reforms to curb the ability of the military to take over. Trimming the power and influence of the military has not been easy and in early 2014 there was yet another military takeover “for the good of the country.” After 2014 the generals realized they had to destroy the ability of political parties to curb military and royal power. The majority of Thais oppose this effort to curb democracy. The army got their way and the new constitution legalizes permanent military power even with an elected government. As long as this new constitution exists the risk of civil war grows.
The generals realize that and see no easy way out. Their new constitution was supposed to secure military power in the government but it has not done that. Most Thais believe the military could stage another coup despite the pro-military constitution, if they saw that as the only way to preserve their power. Eliminating that power is what the current nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations are all about.
November 6, 2020: Th army has selected Chinese UAVs to replace the Israeli ones they have been using for decades. The Chinese UAVs are cheaper, have more features and the manufacturer will provide a simulator to help with training. Technically the army UAVs being replaced are used to adjust artillery fire. The army artillery has few opportunities to use their big guns in action so the UAVs spend much of their time down south helping with counter-terrorism efforts.
There has been less separatist and Islamic terrorist violence in the south. It’s been very quiet down south in 2020, although there were a few incidents during the last few months. Despite that 2020 will continue the trend of violence in the south continues to decline. Opinions differ about why there is less violence down there. The government credits the efforts of 70,000 soldiers and police in the south plus additional economic aid to an area that needs it badly. But ask the locals and you will hear that the local gangsters who carry out most of the separatist violence have finally realized that the locals were getting so angry about the years of separatist activity, especially the number of attacks on pro-government Moslems that it was simply good business to back off on the bombs and gunfire. Instead the gangs are concentrating on the business of smuggling, extortion and making money. They are encouraged by the new government policy of replacing some of the army units with troops recruited locally. These are easier to bribe or intimidate and more likely to leave the gangs alone. Currently nearly all attacks are on the security forces or teachers.
The majority of southerners (over 70 percent) continue to believe the peace negotiations will succeed even though they have been stalled since 2014. The government has persuaded most of the separatist groups in the south to resume peace talks but no significant negotiations have taken place yet. The southern separatist leaders (of six groups, which claim to have a total of 7,000 armed members, most of them inactive) were reluctant to negotiate with the military government because they believed that government would soon be replaced by an elected one that may well refuse to honor a peace deal negotiated by the military.
October 27, 2020: The government relented and agreed to hold local elections in 2020 instead of 2021. The local elections will be held December 20 and be the first local elections since the 2014 coup.
October 20, 2020: The first post-covid19 group of Chinese tourists arrived. Thailand recently established the Special Tourist Visa (STV) that ensures that tourists will not bring covid19 to Thailand or take covid19 back home with them. China is the largest single source of tourists. T here are more of these tourists since the 1990s as millions more Chinese enter ed the middle class and c ould afford to travel abroad. By 2017 annoying changes in the south were largely traced back to the growth in Chinese tourism. Many of the Chinese tourists are troublesome and, worse yet, on budget tours and don’t spend much money. Tourism accounts for a significant portion of GDP and the big spenders tend to cause less trouble. W hile Chinese tourism accounts for nearly 30 percent of tourist income it seems a wise move to change the visa rules to block the low budget Chinese tourists. That didn’t happen but the Thais were warning the Chinese tour operators that the Chinese government was not going to protest them if the bad behavior continued. The Thais have a reputation for being tough negotiators, even with powerful nations they want to (or must) cooperate with. The Chinese, like the Americans and Japanese (especially during World War II) learned it was better to negotiate with the Thais than try to bully them.