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Thai king's birthday marks time-out in Thailand's game of thrones

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Royalists viewed former Prime Minister Thaksin – whose parties have won four successive elections since 2001 and whose sister Yingluck is now premier – as a threat to the officials and business elites around the king. According to a leaked September 2006 US embassy document, a Thaksin confidante described royalists as fretting that then Prime Minister Thaksin’s policies “would erode their own standing.” The same month, Thaksin was ousted in a military coup.

In an effort to protect the monarchy, Thailand cracked down on some of the world's strictest lese-majeste laws and punishments, making it incredibly difficult for open discussion on the monarchy and its future.

According to statistics gathered by iLaw, which tracks freedom of speech in Thailand, more than 16,500 websites deemed in breach of the lese-majeste laws and related computer laws have been blocked this year – a spike since 2011 when around 3,200 were blocked – though far below the almost 40,000 blocked by the previous government during the violent, protest-riven 2010.

Prime minister musical chairs

The royalist factions who ousted Thaksin in 2006 “cannot be happy that Thaksin’s sister is prime minister,” says Paul Handley, author of “The King Never Smiles,” an unauthorized biography of King Bhumibol banned in Thailand. “I think that limits her ability to begin normalizing politics away from palace intrigue, if that was even in her ability and intention.”

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