Without wanting to compromise
my republican credentials, I drew attention last month, at the 75th
anniversary of second Spanish republic, to the success of Spain’s
restored monarchy under King Juan Carlos (I should also have mentioned
Cambodia as another country where monarchy has been restored, although
its success is more equivocal.) Time to acknowledge another monarchy
that has made a genuine contribution to democracy: Thailand.

Thailand
has been in a constitutional crisis since March when prime minister
Thaksin Shinawatra, facing massed protests demanding his resignation,
called a snap election. The opposition boycotted the poll, held on 2
April, and Thaksin’s party accordingly was returned with a majority –
but with a sufficiently large number of abstentions that a new
government could not be formed. Thaksin at first seemed prepared to
tough it out, but after a hint of disapproval from the country’s highly
respected monarch, King Bhumibol, he announced that he would be
resigning.

That didn’t solve the crisis, however. Opposition
demonstrations continued, and a series of by-elections on 23 April
failed to advance matters. Nor did the courts show any inclination to
step in until, once again, the king made a move. In a televised address
he described the situation as a “mess”, called for compromise on all
sides to sort it out, and specifically pointed the finger at the judges
for failing to act.

Sure enough, Thailand’s constitutional court yesterday voted to invalidate the poll and order new elections – the only practical way out. The opposition have announced that this time they will participate.

The
king, who next month celebrates 60 years on the throne, seems to have
developed a real knack for keeping his country away from the
constitutional precipice. An argument for monarchy? Well, yes, as long
as you can be sure of having an experienced, conscientious and
intelligent monarch.

But history suggests they are very much the exception, and putting
large and ill-defined powers into the hands of someone who lacks those
qualities is taking a big risk, as the Nepalese have recently
discovered.

Peter Fray

Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey.

This extraordinary year is almost at an end. But we know that time waits for no one, and we won’t either. This is the time to get on board with Crikey.

For a limited time only, choose what you pay for a year of Crikey.

Save up to 50% or dig deeper so we can dig deeper.

See you in 2021.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

SAVE 50%