Ten years ago I probably knew nothing about Thailand. Five years later I felt I knew something.
What did I know? Well, that King Bhumibol Adulyadej was admired and revered by the Thai people, and Thaksin Shinawatra was an effective prime minister - it so happens that my first visit to Thailand was during the election in January 2001 when he became Prime Minister, and there seemed to be a feeling that this was a fresh start for a country that had been plagued with weak and ineffective governments.
Well, maybe. The king is protected by the world's strictest lèse majesté rules, so criticizing him is a risky thing to do. Thaksin seems to have been at least as interested in getting richer as he was in running the country, and his "war on drugs" seemed to be based on a policy of shooting first and asking questions afterwards.
In 2006 he was forced out of office by an army coup, at least partially because Thaksin's unusually strong position as prime minister represented a challenge to the king's authority. A new constitution was introduced - one that was designed to produce a weaker government, and the hope was that Thaksin would keep away and life would return to normal. In fact I was cautiously optimistic that it would be for the best
Well, I was wrong about that. Thaksin has stayed away, and now spends at least part of his time in Hong Kong (apparently it’s a good place to get divorced and watch live Premier League games), but his supporters won last year's election and he seems to have no shortage of relatives who are willing to become prime minister.
This enrages his opponents, and they have been demonstrating against the government for months, culminating in the occupation of Bangkok’s airports that ended on Tuesday, the same day that the Thai courts ruled that the Prime Minister must stand down. This enabled the demonstrators to claim that they had achieved what they wanted - though surely the court would not have been influenced by the protest.
Which brings us back to the king. This is the second time that a Thaksin-backed prime minister has been forced to resign by the courts, and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that they are doing what they believe the king wants.
The expectation was that Thaksin's allies would form another government, but now it seems possible that the opposition Democrat Party might be able to form a coalition. Well, yes, but those pesky peasants are likely to vote for a Thaksin party again once at the next election, and so this is only going to be a temporary solution.
If the king and his advisers really want a long-term solution, they will need to persuade the Democrats and their allies to govern for the country and not just the elite in Bangkok.