Thaksin Shinawatra has declared that he will not remain as Thai Prime Minister. The decision is said to have come after “a word in his ear from the country’s 78-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej”. Huge protests on the streets of Bangkok, and a very strong “none of the above” vote in an election boycotted by the opposition had earlier failed to achieve this result.
Appealing for unity among Thais, he [Mr Thaksin] apologised to his supporters but said that he was stepping aside in order to avoid embarrassment to the King.
“My reason for not accepting the post of prime minister is because this year is an auspicious year for the King, whose 60th anniversary on the throne is just 60 days away,” he said in a nationally televised address. “I want all Thais to reunite. I beg all Thais to sacrifice for the king.”
Once again, as he has many times in the past, the King, through a mixture of moral, religious and traditional authority, has brought Thailand back from the brink. But he is, of course, the 78-year-old king, and although his mother lived to 99, he’s not going to go on forever.
And the recent political turmoil has once again illustrated the huge gap in Thailand between Bangkok and the rest of the country. The geographers tell us it is the most absolutely primate city in the world (meaning wealth, education etc is most concentrated there). Bangkok was resolutely anti-Thaksin – responsible for both hideous human rights abuses such as the killing of “drug dealers” in custody and for some distinctly dodgy financial deals – but the rest of the country, where political opinion is controlled almost entirely by local “big men,” and which benefited from largess flung to farmers, was resolutely for him.
There is, in Thailand, the kind of division that existed in Cambodia before Pol Pot, and the same culture, that insists on public decorum and a jai yen [a cool heart] – no display of emotion or feeling. (It is no accident that the word amok comes into the English language from this part of the world.) When such repressed feelings finally emerge, they tend to do so explosively.
I wouldn’t be making any longterm investments in Thailand.