Thai students hold a rehearsal at a school in Bangkok on Nov. 13 in preparation for Pope Francis' visit. The pope's missionary cousin, tribal minority people from remote mountain villages and Buddhist children will be among the tens of thousands of people who descend on the Thai capital to catch a glimpse of the pontiff this week. (Photo: Chalinee Thirasupa/AFP)
Pope Francis will be in Thailand tomorrow to start a trip that will also take him to Japan.
The Thailand he comes to visit appears to be in a time of change — a new king, an unstable government and a place at the heart of one of the major economic centers of the world. But closer inspection reveals that many consistent threads in Thai history, politics and culture are alive and well and could repeat themselves.
It was in 1932 that the present borders of Thailand were finally settled. Since then, the country has had a constitutional monarchy, albeit with unstable governments. Frequently visited by millions of tourists each year, Thailand remains relatively impervious to change. International engagement does not appear to have modified much in Thailand or the life of Thai citizens over the last almost 90 years.
The two pillars of Thai public life are the monarchy and the military. They are bound together inseparably — the military’s first loyalty is to the monarch.