Current crisis seems intractable until royal transition occurs writes Asia Sentinel.

The leaders of the 100,000-odd protesters who blocked some of Bangkok’s key intersections Sunday are said by knowledgeable political analysts to be deeply involved in not just a battle for political primacy but for control of the looming succession of the country’s monarchy.

Bhumibol Adulyajej, the 86-year-old king, has been seriously ill for more than two years, spending extended periods in hospital before regaining enough equilibrium to be moved to the summer palace in Hua Hin nearly 200 km south of Bangkok. The forces behind fiery protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban appear to be trying to control the succession. They have repeatedly demanded that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step aside and allow a council of elders of some kind to run the country for a year or more while vague “reforms” are put in place.

Anti-government protesters standing stand beside a giant national flag, in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday. Pic: AP.

If the king is as frail as he appears, a succession could occur at any time. What the elites and upper classes in Bangkok – and some of the armed forces, reportedly including Anupong Poachinda, the former commander in chief of the Royal Thai Army – do not want is for ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawata or his political apparatus to be in charge of the political process when the king finally dies.

Thaksin, now in self-exile in Dubai after being deposed by a coup in 2006, has long been regarded as a threat to the established royalist elites, largely because he is popular and created a power base not completely beholden to the entrenched establishment. A onetime policeman in the northern city of Chiangmai, he is regarded as a newly-rich upstart, a telecom tycoon whose rise to power in 2001 set in motion a process of trying to stop him that continues to this day.

The enormous wealth in the hands of the monarchy and the cozy imprimatur the king bestows on the system could be upended if Thaksin or his proxies control what will certainly be a wrenching period of mourning once the truly revered Bumbibol passes away. The situation is made more fragile because Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, the presumed successor, has in the past been regarded as close to Thaksin.

It seems virtually certain that the crown prince, assuming he takes the throne, would begin his reign as a weak monarch unable to command the kind of respect that his father earned over decades on the throne.

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