To avert further political destabilization and violence, Thailand needs two things: an immediate intervention by the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has previously mediated crises and helped to restore order, and an election in the near term, the results of which must be honoured by the King, the military and the courts. In either case, however, the country is burdened by the inadequacy of its institutions.
The status of the King, who is 82 years old and is known to be ailing, is a mystery. If his incapacitation is permanent, there is a need for a regent to exercise moderating influence in the King's name. There is also a need for clarity around his chosen successor. Kasit Piromya, Thailand's Foreign Minister, on Thursday broached what he termed "the taboo subject of monarchy," reflecting on how it might "have to reform itself to the modern globalized world." This is a necessary step: The powers of the King need to be circumscribed to better reflect the role of a constitutional monarch. Unfortunately, in a country renowned for the opaqueness surrounding its royal family, expect only persistent confusion, fuelling instability.
Mr. Kasit termed the current upheaval in Thailand "a traumatic experience." Tens of thousands of opposition "red shirts," many rural poor, some of whom act as proxies for the deposed former prime minister, and billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra, have swarmed Bangkok in an effort to force the government to resign. The response to their challenge has been inept. A failed attempt to clear some of the protesters last weekend left scores dead. Then yesterday, security forces surrounded a hotel in what proved to be a comically ham-handed attempt to capture several key protest leaders, all of whom were able to slip away in full view of the cameras. As a result, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has now tasked the country's army commander with sole authority to restore order. This is not a promising development.
Mr. Kasit placed an optimistic spin on the current protests, saying it is "part of the process of becoming a more open and democratic society." If only that were the case. Even on Monday, Thailand's Election Commission declared that the Constitutional Court should disband Mr. Abhisit's Democrat Party and ban some supporters from political activity for five years, this over allegations involving illegal donations. Democracy in Thailand has been setback by the machinations of the royal court, the actions of the military, and, oh yes, even by judicial interventions. A fair election in the near term, the results of which are rigorously defended by the King and his advisers, the military and courts, is the only way to defuse the current crisis, and end the instability that has come to characterize Thailand.