The nomination of a member of the king’s immediate family as a candidate for the post of unelected Prime Minister by the Shinawatra-aligned Thai Raksa Chart Party is the bombshell news of the day in Thailand.
Opinions will differ over whether this represents a stroke of brilliance on the part of Thaksin, a move by the King to consolidate his control over yet another branch of the Thai state, or a subtle combination of the interests of both men in concert to punish the present Junta for having overstepped the bounds of what a military dictatorship can be expected to do in contemporary Thailand.
What should be clear, but will likely not be overly stressed in any media, is that this is not the first time Thaksin has attempted to make a large symbolic gesture to create an alignment between ShinCorp and the Palace.
When Samak Sundaravej was chosen to act as Thaksin’s proxy back in 2007, it was clearly Thaksin’s way of trying to dispel his image as some sort of republican democrat. A staunch royalist with the dubious reputation of having played a role in the Thammasat Massacre, the nomination of Samak was clearly intended as a signal to the far right elements among Thai royalists that Thaksin’s intentions were as far from democratic and revolutionary as could be. Less commented upon at the time was the other obvious symbolism involved in parading this crude proto-fascist as the face of the party of popular choice– a middle-finger in the face of the Thai liberals who in spite of their commitment to democracy had joined in the movements that brought him down.
Equally unnoticed at the time of Yingluck’s election was the intended symbolism of Yingluck’s 20-million baht gift to King Bumiphol of the rice paddy in Ayuthaya where he initiated a number of his most celebrated royal projects. The photograph of the civilian Prime Minister on her knees offering up a symbolic piece of Ayuthaya to a king dressed in full military regalia speaks more than the thousand words that made light of the act back in 2012.
Samak was not loved by many factions in both the RTA and the Palace and so was not a successful offering. As is the way with the “independent bodies” brought into being or reinforced by the so-called People’s Constitution of 1997, he was dispensed with by what Brazilians now recognize as a “judicial coup”.
The gift of Ayuthaya by the lady PM went virtually unnoticed and uncommented on. Even the ever vigilant Christine Grey failed to generate her usual word salad in search of arcane meanings in Thai political contexts. If the attempted genuflection was intended to invite an alliance with ShinCorp versus the military, the choice of military dress was all the answer this particular move elicited.
Third time lucky?