There are few people in Thailand who would publicly admit they’ve read the latest book by journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall. Were they to do so, they’d probably find themselves accused of insulting the monarchy and facing a lengthy jail sentence.
It is not that Marshall’s book, A Kingdom in Crisis, is particularly offensive. But it does make a striking case as it seeks to explain the origins of the political mayhem that has engulfed Thailand in recent years.
Marshall argues the situation can be understood only by seeing it as the jockeying by Thailand’s powerful and elite factions ahead of the succession of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is 86 and who been ill for a number of years. This week, the king was readmitted to hospital for gall-bladder surgery.
According to Thailand’s rules of succession, on the death of the widely revered king, the throne should pass to his son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. But within the palace establishment – an expansive network of privy counsellors, advisers and minor royals – are those who would prefer it instead went to Crown Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, one of his daughters.
Many believe she would be easier to control, and perceive that the Crown Prince, a one-time playboy, is close to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a former telecommunications tycoon who has widespread support among working-class and rural Thais.
Marshall says the trauma that turned the streets of Bangkok into protest sites in recent years is not solely about the succession issue; also taking place is a struggle by the country’s poor to overturn the exploitation they have suffered at the hands of the elite.
Thailand protests: Thai army declares martial law
Thailand protests: Thai army declares martial law
A Thai soldier stands in front of a portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as he patrols near government buildings in Bangkok
A pro-government protester points at a soldier during a cleanup at a pro-government demonstration site on the outskirts of Bangkok
Thai soldiers patrol near government buildings in Bangkok
A soldier walks past barefoot Buddhist monks begging for alms outside a temple near Government House in Bangkok
Thai police and army soldiers stand guard outside a military compound before former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra arrives to report to Thailand's ruling military in Bangkok
Thai soldiers stand guard at a roadblock outside the Defence Ministry building (background) after Thailand's army chief announced that the armed forces were seizing power in Bangkok
Thai soldiers patrol after army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha met with anti-government and pro-government leaders at the Army Club in Bangkok
Thai police and military display a haul of weapons seized during recent raids since the imposition of martial law, at a press conference at the Army Club in Bangkok
Thai soldiers stand next to the portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej after the declaration of martial law at the Army Club in Bangkok. Thai Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, declared martial law giving the military full control to prevent further protest-related violence in the country
Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban (R) gives a traditional greeting to a soldier before leaving Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's army chief said rival political groups should talk to each other and that the martial law imposed would last until peace and order had been restored
A Thai soldier stands outside the Government Public Relations Department in Bangkok
Thai soldiers man a checkpoint near pro-government "red shirt" supporters encampment in suburbs of Bangkok
(L-R) Thai Police Chief Adul Saengsingkaew, Navy Chief Adm Narong Pipattanasai, Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha and Air Chief Marshall Prachin Chantong during a meeting at the Army Club in Bangkok. Thailand has been wracked by six months of non-stop protests seeking to topple the government. At least 25 people have died in political-related violence and more than 700 injured
Motorists on their way as Thai soldiers take to the streets with a heavy machine gun on a Humvee military vehicle at a main road outside the Royal Thai Police Sports Club in Bangkok
Outside police headquarters in Bangkok
An anti-government protester waves a Thai national flag during a rally outside the Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's Senate said it was ready to choose an interim prime minister to end a political deadlock but stopped short of throwing out a beleaguered caretaker government and risking a violent backlash by its supporters
Thai anti-government protesters shout slogans during a rally in front of the Parliament as senators debate to find and end to the country's political conflict in Bangkok. Thousands of anti-government protesters rallied the area surrounding parliament and Government House to pressure the Senate to appoint an interim government to institute political reforms before new elections while key Thai institutions are resisting the opposition's demands
Thai anti-government protesters gather in front of the Parliament in Bangkok
Thai riot policemen stand guard during an anti-government protest rally at the Air Force auditorium in Bangkok. Thailand's Election Commission called for the postponement of key parliamentary polls due to be held on 20 July 2014 because of political unrest shaking the kingdom
Anti-government protesters leave an air force base after breaking into its grounds in Bangkok. Protesters seeking to oust Thailand's government broke into the grounds of an air force compound where the acting prime minister was meeting the Election Commission to fix a date for new polls, forcing him to flee
Thai Air Force military (L) face anti-government protesters after they broke into the Royal Thai Air Force base in Bangkok. Hundreds of anti-government protesters broke into the meeting between the election commission and the caretaker government as they discussed for the planned next elections on 15 May 2014, after the results of the 02 February general elections were annulled. According to media reports, Thailand's Election Commission said that the 20 July polling is no longer possible due to political turmoil
Thai anti-government protesters leader Suthep Thaugsuban (C-L) cheers his followers during a street rally march toward Government House and Parliament in Bangkok
An anti-government protester (C) gives instructions to a fellow protester on how to wave a huge Thai flag from atop a barricade near the Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's beleaguered government warned people to stay away from anti-government protests, saying it had to step up security as the two sides in a lengthy political crisis squared off over who is running the country
An anti-government protester looks at a damaged telephone booth after a grenade attack at a protest site outside Government House in Bangkok. Supporters of Thailand's embattled government warned the country's judiciary and Senate against any attempt to install an unelected prime minister, saying it would be a disaster for the nation that could spark civil war
Anti-government protesters making a fist and waving a giant Thai flag, the symbol of the protest, on top of a truck as they rally outside Thai Parliament in a call for the final battle in Bangkok. Protesters marched on many key sites in Bangkok, police fired tear gas and some protesters have been injured. Protest leaders say they are hoping to strike the final blow at the weakened government and usher in a people's council to reform the government
“The turbulence is best understood in terms of these two entangled conflicts – an unacknowledged war of succession... and a struggle for equality and liberty that encompasses the whole country,” he writes.
Marshall, a former Reuters correspondent, has been honing his theory for several years. Some of his work is based on classified US diplomatic cables uncovered by WikiLeaks – which, he says, the news agency would not publish. He says he has also developed numerous contacts within the royal establishment who have provided details from inside the palace.
At stake is massive wealth of patronage and influence. Forbes magazine has estimated that King Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, oversees assets worth more than £18bn, and whoever succeeds him will be in charge of dispensing favours and influence.
The publication of Marshall’s analysis, by Zed Books, comes as Thailand remains under martial law, following a coup in May by army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Marshall sees this as part of a desperate attempt by the elite to undermine the influence of Thaksin. “The coup was the culmination of years of slow strangulation of Thai democracy,” he says.
Gen Prayuth, who has been sworn in as a “civilian” prime minister, says he will restore elections, perhaps next year.Reuse content