Max Fisher has a through analysis of the Thai coup dynamics over at VOX.
His take on the three critical reasons for the crisis:
There’s a long-running battle for power between the urban minority and the poorer, rural majority, and it’s a stalemate. There’ve been years of political trench warfare between two main political factions, both of which are powerful enough to take power but too weak to hold onto it. One side is the mostly rural, working class and poorer majority, which keeps electing governments friendly to its interests. The other side is the mostly urban, elite minority, which is too small to win an election but has enough political power to take power through military and judicial coups. Each side keeps pushing out the other, which typically leads to street protests and violence. This part is really important so read more here about why it happens.
There’s a norm of using coups to resolve political crises. Thailand’s first military coups, in the 1930s through 1950s, came a time when coups were a little less unusual in the world. But they’ve stuck around because there are structural forces in Thailand that make coups attractive and, more simply, because it’s just become a habit. Coups are seen as an unusually acceptable way of resolving political crisis, which means that people are more likely to push for them, and the military is more likely to oblige. This card explains how Thailand got its “coup culture” and how it works.
The king and his uncertain role in politics are part of the problem. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy in which the king has very real political powers, though he rarely exercises them. For a long time, he acted as a sort of mediator, stepping in to help resolve major political disputes. The problem is that now he is 86 and too old to do this, but the Thai political system has developed a dependence on outside mediation. The military has been happy to fill that role, though its form of mediation typically means staging a coup. The other problem is that it’s not clear who will succeed the king and this uncertainty may also worsen instability. Here’s a rundown on why the king is causing so many problems.
Or to put it another way:
At its most basic level, this is about an unwinnable fight between Thailand’s two main political factions that’s been going on for years. Think about how bad the political divide is in the United States. Now imagine that there were way more Republicans than Democrats, such that Republicans almost always won elections, but that the Democrats represented almost everyone with real political power, from judges to generals to business leaders. Now imagine that the military and supreme court openly prefer Democrats, and isn’t afraid to use its power to kick out Republicans. Throw in a few more problems — an ailing king, rural poverty, a habit of using mass streets protests to force political change — and you’ve got the basics of Thailand.
The post is a bit long but well worth the time.