Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thailand’s King Sees His Influence Fading

A battle over Thailand’s future is raging, but the one man who has been able to resolve such intractable conflicts in the past has been notably silent: King Bhumibol Adulyadej, long a unifying father figure for his nation.

Thailand is convulsed by a bitter struggle between the nation’s elite and its disenfranchised poor, played out in protests that have paralyzed Bangkok for weeks and now threaten to expand. The ailing 82-year-old king finds his power to sway events ebbing as the fight continues over the shape of a post-Bhumibol Thailand.

“It’s much bigger than the issue of succession,” said Charles Keyes, an expert on Thailand at the University of Washington in Seattle. “It’s a collapse of the political consensus that the monarchy has helped maintain.”

As his country suffers through its worst political crisis in decades, the king has disappointed many Thais by saying nothing that might calm the turmoil, as he did in 1973 and 1992 when with a few quiet words he halted eruptions of political bloodletting.

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