In an op-ed published by Asia Times on October 19, 2016, ASPI Director for Asian Security Lindsey Ford argues that, following King Bhumibol's death, it would be a mistake for Thailand's leaders to delay the long-awaited return to democracy.
My first introduction to the “people’s king” came on a sunny Monday morning in Bangkok. Surrounded on all sides by a crush of yellow shirts on my way to the office, I marveled at this voluntary display of sartorial harmony. From poor street vendors to well-heeled office workers, reverence for the King transcended societal lines.
For generations of Thai citizens who lived through the Cold War, political uprisings and coups, and the economic upheaval of globalization, King Bhumibol Adulyadej was the one constant in a sea of change — the North Star pointing the way back to what it meant to be “Thai” in a rapidly changing world.
With the King’s passing last week, Thailand must now chart a course forward for a nation that looks very different from the quiet agrarian state Bhumibol inherited in 1946. But with an unpopular royal successor and a divided political elite, the way ahead is as uncertain as it has ever been. The easy and obvious response would be for the current government to delay the long-awaited return to democracy promised for 2017. This would be a mistake. Instead, Thailand should leverage this transition to forge a more durable future. Doing so will require grappling with several difficult challenges.