Malaysia’s besieged leader Najib Razak claims to have turned around his political fortunes despite the 1MDB scandal. While UMNO is increasingly confident of facing the coming general election, the ground may be far from sweet.
By Yang Razali Kassim*
The mother of all battles is shaping up in Malaysian politics as beleaguered prime minister Najib Razak pulled out all stops to defend himself in the face of a reconfiguring opposition. Putting his dominant party, UMNO, on a war footing at its recently concluded annual general assembly, Najib resorted to the Islamic doctrine of wala’ – or loyalty to the leader – as he manoeuvred to rally support and ready UMNO for a general election.
The enabler was his Number 2, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who started the ball rolling by pledging his own loyalty to Najib, who has been under siege since the outbreak of the 1MDB scandal last year. UMNO for the first time had to ward off an uprising against a sitting president led by a former prime minister and party president. In a single-minded drive to push Najib out, Mahathir Mohamad is leading a “people’s movement” to “Save Malaysia”. Having resigned from UMNO in protest against Najib, Mahathir has joined the opposition, even reconciling with his former ally-turned-nemesis Anwar Ibrahim to revive their once powerful political partnership.
Najib’s Survival Strategy
Mahathir is now demonised as a traitor who would even sleep with the enemy, the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), to destroy UMNO, the Malay party he once led. The trigger that launched Mahathir on this warpath is 1MDB which has implicated Najib despite his denial of wrongdoing. The scandal has energised the divided opposition as well as Najib’s critics, culminating in the departure from UMNO of Mahathir and three other leaders, including deputy prime minister and UMNO deputy president Muhyddin Yassin. All three have formed a new party PPBM, also known for short as Bersatu.
This new party is set to join the Anwar-inspired Pakatan Harapan, formerly known as Pakatan Rakyat. This could strengthen the opposition coalition out to topple Najib, along with UMNO and the ruling national front coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN). It is this prospect of a reconstituted opposition coalition led in spirit and form by the two formidable former foes – Mahathir and Anwar – that caused Zahid to predict an epic clash. “We have to work triple-hard than previous elections because the mother of all battles will be in this coming elections,” he told the MalayMail in an interview. Another UMNO leader, the chief minister of Johor state, has described the coming general election as a “battle for survival”.
With his back to the wall, Najib’s strategy for survival has transformed him from a gentlemanly politician to an almost unrecognisable political animal. At the outbreak of the 1MDB scandal, he swiftly removed key senior officials who were not on his side, including the attorney-general, before sacking his chief critic, the deputy premier Muhyiddin. 1MDB has now grown into an international scandal as several governments launched probes where the financial fiasco affected their jurisdictions; yet at the UMNO general assembly over the weekend, 1MDB was hardly an issue as the entire party’s attention was deflected towards the impending general election.
Najib the Malay nationalist then burnished his credentials as an Islamic leader by latching on to the latest humanitarian crisis on the Rohingya in Myanmar, which came at an opportune time for him. Usually cautious when making his moves and choosing his words, Najib was a different persona at the Rohingya solidarity rally the next day.
“Enough is enough.They want me to close my eyes? Shut my mouth? I will not keep quiet. We will defend them (the Rohingya)!”–Najib Razak. How do you propose to execute your pledge. Mr Prime Minister? Talk is cheap.–Din Merican
He did the unprecedented in ASEAN: He brushed aside a warning by Myanmar not to interfere in the country’s internal affairs. Upset that his foreign minister was turned away by Aung San Suu Kyi when he sought bilateral talks on the issue, Najib declared a limit to the ASEAN principle of non-interference when it came to human rights abuses. He even ticked off Suu Kyi for not living up to her name as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, while urging Indonesian president Joko Widodo to mobilise a larger rally in support of the Rohingya: “Enough is enough!” he said. “They want me to close my eyes? Shut my mouth? I will not keep quiet. We will defend them (the Rohingya)!”
Billed as the Muslim Ummah Solidarity Rally for the Rohingya, it was clearly not just to show solidarity with the persecuted Rohingya, thousands of whom have taken refuge in Malaysia. It was also to showcase solidarity between UMNO and PAS, the Islamist opposition which Najib has been trying hard to woo. Indeed, this was a showcase moment – of him on stage together with the opposition Islamist PAS leader, Hadi Awang.
In coming together to support the Rohingya, UMNO and PAS have signalled their converging political interests. While this does not necessarily mean they would end up as formal allies in the coming elections, it does raise the prospect of an electoral pact. The more UMNO can win PAS over, the lesser the chances of the Pakatan Harapan opposition getting stronger. ASEAN will now have to contain the political fallout on the diplomatic and regional fronts.
The Mood Outside UMNO
Najib is clearly overflowing with confidence. UMNO leaders claimed the party had turned the corner and was now solidly behind him. While this may be so, it is too early to say if UMNO is completely out of the woods, going by publicly-aired sentiments. One came from a recent press conference by an UMNO Youth leader who quit the party after he was suspended for allegedly trying to “sabotage Najib” by attempting to provide Mahathir with a speaking platform.
It was not so much the Youth leader’s resignation but what he said. He said many more were standing behind him and claimed there would be “busloads” who would leave UMNO in “managed waves”. This would build up to the general election that is widely expected to be quickened to next year, before the fractured opposition could consolidate.
On a broader note, while UMNO may still be the dominant Malay party, it is no longer regarded as the sole representative of the Malay community’s political aspirations. Outside UMNO – indeed outside the Malay community – the mood may be in stark contrast. A recent article by a former senior civil servant and now a think-tank senior, Ramon Navaratnam, was telling. He warned of a “serious disconnect” between UMNO leaders and the wider Malaysian public.
Ramon wondered whether the UMNO leaders’ confidence and happiness was “shared by all Malays and Bumiputeras and especially, most Malaysians, including non-Malays and non-Muslims”. “Prime Minister Najib Razak and UMNO leaders are generally confident of the future, but are Malaysians happy too?” He listed five sources of discontent – inflation, corruption, unemployment, human rights, and deteriorating safety and security. The chairman of the ASLI Centre for Public Policy Studies said: “Malaysia’s public confidence by any measure is now low and declining…This is causing much loss of public confidence and unhappiness, which all political leaders must address expeditiously, before it’s too late for the 14th general election.”
*Yang Razali Kassim is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Even for Donald Trump, the distance is still fun to think about, up here in his penthouse 600 ft. in the sky, where it’s hard to make out the regular people below. The ice skaters swarming Central Park’s Wollman Rink look like old-television static, and the Fifth Avenue holiday shoppers could be mites in a gutter. To even see this view, elevator operators, who spend their days standing in place, must push a button marked 66–68, announcing all three floors of Trump’s princely pad. Inside, staff members wear cloth slipcovers on their shoes, so as not to scuff the shiny marble or stain the plush cream carpets.
This is, in short, not a natural place to refine the common touch. It’s gilded and gaudy, a dreamscape of faded tapestry, antique clocks and fresco-style ceiling murals of gym-rat Greek gods. The throw pillows carry the Trump shield, and the paper napkins are monogrammed with the family name. His closest neighbors, at least at this altitude, are an international set of billionaire moguls who have decided to stash their money at One57 and 432 Park, the two newest skyscrapers to remake midtown Manhattan. There is no tight-knit community in the sky, no paperboy or postman, no bowling over brews after work.
And yet here Trump resides, under dripping crystal, with diamond cuff links, as the President-elect of the United States of America. The Secret Service agents milling about prove that it really happened, this election result few saw coming. Hulking and serious, they gingerly try to stay on the marble, avoiding the carpets with their uncovered shoes. On his wife Melania’s desk, next to books of Gianni Versace’s fashions and Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry, a new volume sits front and center: The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families.
For all of Trump’s public life, taste makers and intellectuals have dismissed him as a vulgarian and carnival barker, a showman with big flash and little substance. But what those critics never understood was that their disdain gave him strength. For years, he fed off the disrespect and used it to grab more tabloid headlines, to connect to common people. Now he has upended the leadership of both major political parties and effectively shifted the political direction of the international order. He will soon command history’s most lethal military, along with economic levers that can change the lives of billions. And the people he has to thank are those he calls “the forgotten,” millions of American voters who get paid by the hour in shoes that will never touch these carpets—working folk, regular Janes and Joes, the dots in the distance.
It’s a topic Trump wants to discuss as he settles down in his dining room, with its two-story ceiling and marble table the length of a horseshoe pitch: the winning margins he achieved in West Virginia coal country, the rally crowds that swelled on Election Day, what he calls that “interesting thing,” the contradiction at the core of his appeal. “What amazes a lot of people is that I’m sitting in an apartment the likes of which nobody’s ever seen,” the next President says, smiling. “And yet I represent the workers of the world.”
The late Fidel Castro would probably spit out his cigar if he heard that one—a billionaire who branded excess claiming the slogans of the proletariat. But Trump doesn’t care. “I’m representing them, and they love me and I love them,” he continues, talking about the people of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the struggling Rust Belt necklace around the Great Lakes that delivered his victory. “And here we sit, in very different circumstances.”
The Last, Greatest Deal
For nearly 17 months on the campaign trail, Trump did what no American politician had attempted in a generation, with defiant flair. Instead of painting a bright vision for a unified future, he magnified the divisions of the present, inspiring new levels of anger and fear within his country. Whatever you think of the man, this much is undeniable: he uncovered an opportunity others didn’t believe existed, the last, greatest deal for a 21st century salesman. The national press, the late-night comics, the elected leaders, the donors, the corporate chiefs and a sitting President who prematurely dropped his mic—they all believed he was just taking the country for a ride.
Trump found a way to woo white evangelicals by historic margins, even winning those who attend religious services every week. Despite boasting on video of sexually assaulting women, he still found a way to win white females by 9 points. As a champion of federal entitlements for the poor, tariffs on China and health care “for everybody,” he dominated among self-described conservatives. In a country that seemed to be bending toward its demographic future, with many straining to finally step outside the darker cycles of history, he proved that tribal instincts never die, that in times of economic strife and breakneck social change, a charismatic leader could still find the enemy within and rally the masses to his side. In the weeks after his victory, hundreds of incidents of harassment, many using his name—against women, Muslims, immigrants and racial minorities—were reported across the country.
The starting point for his success, which can be measured with just tens of thousands of votes, was the most obvious recipe in politics. He identified the central issue motivating the American electorate and then convinced a plurality of the voters in the states that mattered that he was the best person to bring change. “The greatest jobs theft in the history of the world” was his cause, “I alone can fix it” his unlikely selling point, “great again” his rallying cry.
Since the bungled Iraq War faded into the rearview mirror, there has been only one defining issue in American presidential politics, spanning party and ideology. It’s the reason Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren thunders that “the system is rigged” by the banks, and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders got so much traction denouncing the greed of “millionaires and billionaires.” It’s what Marco Rubio meant when he said, “We are losing the American Dream,” and why Jeb Bush claimed everyone has a “right to rise.”
President Barack Obama identified it early, back in 2005, as a newly elected Senator delivering a commencement speech at tiny Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. Obama’s hymn to “the forgotten” was his ticket to the White House. “You know what this new challenge is. You’ve seen it,” he said. “The fact that when you drive by the old Maytag plant around lunchtime, no one walks out anymore … It’s as if someone changed the rules in the middle of the game and no one bothered to tell these folks.”
As Obama explained it, the American promise was being put up on cinder blocks, buttressed by massive economic forces. His vow, repeated in his final 30-minute-long television ad in 2008, was change for the struggling, help for those who needed it, security for the ones who felt themselves slipping. Four years later, he would return to the same playbook to defeat Mitt Romney, casting the Republican nominee as an obtuse private-equity moneybags aiming to bankrupt Detroit. A quote pulled from a focus group—”I’m working harder and falling behind”—became the watchwords of Obama’s 2012 re-elect, hung on walls and placed atop PowerPoints. He had identified the issue, and as long as his name was on the ballot, no one could beat him.
But Obama never fully delivered the prosperity he promised. There was certainly help on the margins, slowing cost growth for health care and providing insurance to millions, for example. He started some pilot projects for manufacturing hubs, increased incomes marginally in the past couple of years and led the nation to recover from a vicious recession, with the federal government directly creating or saving millions of jobs. An unemployment rate that peaked at 10% in October 2009 has been halved to 4.6% now, at the end of his term. But the great weather systems of global change continued under his watch. Ultimately, he grew resigned to the fact that there was only so much he could do in office.
The most recently available data tells the remarkable story: between 2001 and 2012, the median incomes of households headed by people without college degrees—nearly two-thirds of all homes—fell as they aged, according to research by Robert Shapiro, an economist who advised Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. As American productivity and gross domestic product grew in the first decade of the new century, median wages for all Americans broke away, effectively flatlining. Most Americans making less than the median income, but not so little as to qualify for poverty benefits, suffered income losses of about 5% between 2007 and 2013, according to research by Branko Milanovic, a former World Bank economist.
If you lived in the nation’s great cities or held a college degree, you probably didn’t feel the full fury of these forces. Average income declines for top earners were closer to 1% during the post recession years. Global change is tricky that way. It enriches those in the developed world who can handle bits and bytes, create something new or sell their work at a distance. And it elevates the fortunes of the global poor, largely in Asia, pushing about a billion people from poverty into the beginnings of a new China-led middle class.
But for the working men and women of developed countries, many of whom had made good livings in the 20th century, the price of others’ success could be seen all around, in peeling house paint and closed storefronts, in towns that went belly-up when one of the two big employers closed shop. The pressures pushed across the Atlantic Ocean. The size of the middle classes, as measured by those who earn 25% above or below the median income, dropped in the U.S. from the 1980s to 2013. It also dropped in Spain and Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K. It is no accident that all those countries now find themselves in the midst of political upheaval as well.
The reasons for the shifts are more complex than the simple offshoring of manufacturing plants to Mexico or China. Global trade and new technology also pressure wages on jobs beyond the assembly line. When combined with rising health-insurance costs and incessant shareholder demands, companies found themselves unable or unwilling to give raises. Automation also accelerated as factories turned to robots, checkout lines retooled with self-operated terminals, and engineers developed self-driving trucks and taxis. Political gridlock in Washington, and the mild austerity it created, weighed everything down.
‘I hoped for change and never saw it’
But properly diagnosing the problem doesn’t help much if you live in a place that has taken it on the chin. In Shiawassee County, Michigan, which sits like a pit stop between Flint and Lansing, Obama won comfortably in 2008 and by a narrow margin in 2012. Then Trump tromped to victory this year with a 20-point margin. Rick Mengel, a 69-year-old retired pipe fitter, was one of the union members who voted for the young Illinois Senator in 2008, after seeing him promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Obama once called “devastating” and a “big mistake.”
“I hoped for change and never saw it,” Mengel says of the Obama years. “I watched jobs go away, and any jobs that came in were at McDonald’s. I’m not knocking McDonald’s, but it’s a starter job. It doesn’t make the car or house payments.” When a friend bought him a MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat this year, Mengel took to wearing it everywhere he went. He never believed the polls that said Hillary Clinton would carry Michigan, because he can’t remember ever sitting down with a group of five or six people and finding more than one for her. “Hillary came along and she just never said what she was going to do,” Mengel explains. “She just talked bad about Trump.”
First he needed to define the bad guys. then he needed to knock them over.
Such voices were easy to find in central Michigan, northeast Pennsylvania and western Wisconsin in the days after the election. Here were historically Democratic counties that Obama had won twice, only to see Trump then win comfortably. They are mostly white parts of the country, with struggling Main Streets and low college-graduation rates, where the local beauty salons do better business than the car dealers. They are places where people start their life stories by recounting the good-paying jobs their grandparents held, or the long-gone second homes up on the lake where they used to play as kids. In the 1970s, the bumper stickers on trucks in Prairie du Chien, Wis., would read LIVE BETTER. WORK UNION. Now the sign in the local Walmart says, SAVE MONEY. LIVE BETTER.
Joseph Dougherty, a former Democratic mayor of Nanticoke, Pa. who manages an automotive paint store, switched his voter registration this year for Trump. He was one of many in Luzerne County, a gorgeous river valley of rolling hills and former coal mines, who had lost patience. Trump cleared 78,000 votes in these hills, 20,000 more than Romney. “The Democratic Party forgot about its base. It’s all less for us and more for someone else,” Dougherty said, explaining how he could betray the party he was born into. “People are tired of surviving. People want to go on vacation, improve their home, get a better car, invest in their children’s future.”
Economists looking at the voting patterns since Election Day have been able to draw clear correlations between the local effects of international trade and voter angst. In counties where Chinese imports grew between 2002 and 2014, the vote for Trump increased over the vote George W. Bush won in 2000. For every percentage-point increase in imports, the economists found an average 2-point increase for the Republican nominee.
In some places, the shift was even steeper. In Branch County, Michigan, near the Indiana border, about halfway between Detroit and Chicago, a 3% increase in Chinese imports coincided with an 11% bump for Trump over Bush. The message of renewed protectionism, new tariffs and scrapped trade agreements broke through. “His approach was much more visceral,” says David Autor, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, who co-authored the study. “He seemed to say, ‘We don’t have to adapt to globalization. We can reverse it.’”
It’s hard to find any trained economist who believes that’s possible, at least in the terms Trump uses. The supply chains are too broadly dispersed, the pricing efficiencies too embedded in our lives, the robots too cost-effective. Then there are the dangers of massive disruption, the unquantifiable costs of trade wars, or the actual wars that could follow.
But Trump’s improvement on Obama’s sales pitch was never about the details. He communicated on a deeper level, something he has done all his life. His was not a campaign about the effects of tariffs on the price of batteries or basketball shoes. He spoke only of winning and losing, us and them, the strong and the weak. Trump is a student of the tabloids, a master of television. He had moonlighted as a professional wrestler. He knew how to win the crowd. First he needed to define the bad guys. Then he needed to knock them over.
The Presidency as Improv
On Dec. 1, just weeks after his victory, Trump traveled to Indiana to announce that United Technologies, the 45th largest company in the country, had agreed to his demands and would retain 800 Carrier manufacturing jobs in Indianapolis. This mostly fulfilled a campaign promise he had made after the factory became national news when video shot inside showed the despair of workers discovering their work was headed to Mexico. “Companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences,” he declared at the plant.
Three days earlier, Trump met with TIME in his towering dining room. The Carrier deal was basically done, thanks to a mixture of $7 million in state tax breaks, presidential threats and promises of tax and regulatory reform. But it was still a secret. His running mate, former Indiana governor Mike Pence, declined to discuss the deal when a reporter ran into him in Trump’s high-rise kitchen. But Trump could not stop himself. “I’m going to give you this off the record,” he said. “You can use it if they announce.”
For both conservative and liberal ideologues, including Sarah Palin and Bernie Sanders, the deal Trump struck with Carrier was an abomination, an example of government using taxpayer money to pick winners and losers. But as Trump told the story in his tower, ideology had nothing to do with it. This was just another tale of a little guy getting his voice heard.
“So the other night, I’m watching the news,” Trump began. NBC’s Lester Holt had introduced a segment on the Carrier plant featuring a union representative and a plant worker talking in a bar. The man looked at the camera and spoke to Trump, saying, “We want you to do what you said you were going to do.” Trump claimed this shocked him: “I said, I never said they weren’t going to move, to myself.”
But of course he had, as the news segment demonstrated. So Trump says he had no choice. He had to listen to his people. “He energized me, that man,” the President-elect explained. “And I called up the head of United Technologies.”
Shortly after he spoke those words, Reince Priebus, the next White House chief of staff, walked into the room. With the tape recorders rolling, Trump began to issue new instructions. “Hey, Reince, I want to get a list of companies that have announced they’re leaving,” he called out. “I can call them myself. Five minutes apiece. They won’t be leaving. O.K.?”
He was talking as if he had just realized—at that moment, in the middle of an interview—that he had the power to do what he promised to do on the campaign trail. But it was just a show. At that point, Trump had already had a similar talk with Bill Ford of Ford Motor Co., and he boasted of putting out three other calls out to corporations with outsourcing plans.
This is the presidency as improv, as performance art, with good guys, bad guys and suspense. It’s a new thing for the United States of America. The reporters in the room, the voters who will read this article, the nation, the world—we are the audience. A quick study who grew up in Kenosha, Wis., Priebus is far too Midwestern to be mistaken for a showman. But he got what Trump was trying to do, and smiled. “It worked for you last time,” he told the boss.
Missing the Message
History will record that Clinton foresaw the economic forces that allowed Trump to win. What she and her team never fully understood was the depth of the populism Trump was peddling, the idea that the elites were arrayed against regular people, and that he, the great man, the strong man, the offensive man, the disruptive man, the entertaining man, could remake the physics of an election.
“You cannot underestimate the role of the backlash against political correctness—the us vs. the elite,” explains Kellyanne Conway, who worked as Trump’s final campaign manager. His previous campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, put it somewhat more delicately: “We always felt comfortable that when people were criticizing him for being so outspoken, the American voters were hearing him too.”
Meet the Voters Who Helped Put Donald Trump in the White House
Lise Sarfati for TIME
In June 2015, Clinton’s pollster Joel Benenson laid out the state of the country in a private memo to senior staff that was later released to the public by WikiLeaks. The picture of voters was much the same as the one he had described to Obama in 2008 and 2012. “When they look to the future, they see growing obstacles, but nobody having their back,” Benenson wrote. “They can’t keep up; they work hard but can’t move ahead.” The top priority he listed for voters was “protecting American jobs here at home.”
That message anchored the launch of Clinton’s campaign, and it was woven through her three debate performances. But in the closing weeks, she shifted to something else. No presidential candidate in American history had done or said so many outlandish and offensive things as Trump. He cheered when protesters got hit at his rallies, used sexist insults for members of the press, argued that an American judge should be disqualified from a case because of his Mexican heritage. He would tell an allegory about Muslim refugees entering the U.S. that cast those families fleeing violence as venomous snakes, waiting to sink their fangs into “tenderhearted” women. And he would match those stories with bloody tales of undocumented immigrants from Mexico who murdered Americans in cold blood. “His disregard for the values that make our country great is profoundly dangerous,” Clinton argued.
His rhetoric had in fact opened up a new public square, where racists and misogynists could boast of their views and claim themselves validated. And to further enrage many Americans, Trump regularly peddled falsehoods, without offering any evidence, and then refused to back down from his claims. He promised to sue the dozen women who came forward to say they had been sexually mistreated by him over the years. He said he might not accept the outcome of the election if it did not go his way. He described a crime wave gripping the country based on a selective reading of statistics.
For a Clinton campaign aiming to re-create Obama’s winning coalitions, all of this proved too large a target to pass up. Clinton had proved to be a subpar campaigner, so with the FBI restarting and reclosing a criminal investigation into her email habits, her closing message focused on a moral argument about Trump’s character. “Our core values are being tested in this election,” she said in Philadelphia, the night before the election. “We know enough about my opponent. We know who he is. The real question for us is what kind of country we want to be.”
The strategy worked, in a way. Clinton got about 2.5 million more votes than Trump, and on Election Day, more than 6 in 10 voters told exit pollsters that Trump lacked the temperament for the job of President. But the strategy also placed Clinton too far away from the central issue in the nation: the steady decline of the American standard of living. She lost the places that mattered most. “There’s a difference for voters between what offends you and what affects you,” Conway helpfully explained after it was over.
Stanley Greenberg, the opinion-research guru for Bill Clinton in 1992, put out a poll around Election Day and found clear evidence that Clinton’s decision to divert her message from the economy in the final weeks cost her the decisive vote in the Rust Belt. “The data does not support the idea that the white working class was inevitably lost,” Greenberg wrote, “until the Clinton campaign stopped talking about economic change and asked people to vote for unity, temperament and experience, and to continue on President Obama’s progress.” Interestingly, Greenberg said turnout among young, minority and unmarried female voters also decreased when the economic message Obama had used fell away.
Anecdote, Not Analysis
The irony of this conclusion is profound. By seeking to condemn the dark side of politics, Clinton’s campaign may have accidently validated it. By believing in the myth that Obama’s election represented a permanent shift for the nation, they proved it was ephemeral. In the end, Trump reveled in these denunciations, which helped him market to his core supporters his determination to smash the existing elite. After the election, Trump’s campaign CEO Stephen Bannon—the former head of a website known for stirring racial animus and provoking liberal outrage—explained it simply. “Darkness is good,” he told the Hollywood Reporter.
This is the method of a demagogue. The more the elites denounced his transgressions, the more his growing movement felt validated. Shortly after the campaign, Trump tweeted that 3 million votes had been cast illegally on Nov. 8, a false claim for which he has offered no hard evidence. But when asked about it in his penthouse, he seems eager to talk about the controversy he stirred. “I’ve seen many, many complaints,” he says. “Tremendous numbers of complaints.”
In the dining room, a TIME reporter reads to Trump one of Obama’s oft-stated quotes about trying to appeal to the country’s better angels and to fight its tribal instincts. Trump promptly stops the interview in its tracks. The human brain is wired for anecdote, not analysis, and Trump’s whole career is a testament to this insight. Even when his business failures mounted, he could always boast about the ratings of his hit reality show, The Apprentice, or that time he finished construction on the Wollman ice rink outside his window. “So let me go upstairs for one second and get you one newspaper article,” he says. “Do you mind if I take a one-second break?” And then he disappears into his living quarters above.
He returns a few minutes later with that morning’s copy of Newsday, the Long Island tabloid. The front-page headline reads, “EXTREMELY VIOLENT” GANG FACTION, with an article about a surge of local crime by foreign-born assailants. His point, it seems, is that the world is zero-sum, full of the irredeemable killers that Obama’s idealism fails to see. The details are more compelling than any big picture. “They come from Central America. They’re tougher than any people you’ve ever met,” Trump says. “They’re killing and raping everybody out there. They’re illegal. And they are finished.”
A reporter mentions that what Trump is saying echoes the rhetoric of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has overseen the extrajudicial killing of thousands of alleged drug dealers and users in recent months. The President-elect offers no objection to the comparison. “Well, hey, look, this is bad stuff,” he says. “They slice them up, they carve their initials in the girl’s forehead, O.K. What are we supposed to do? Be nice about it?”
Days later, Trump will have a phone call with the Philippine President, who called President Obama the “son of a whore” a few months ago. A readout from the Philippine government subsequently announces that during the call, Trump praised Duterte’s deadly drug crackdown as “the right way.”
Populism Takes Center Stage
A year from now, when Trump travels to the U.N. to address the world’s leaders, he is likely to find far more sympathy for this hard-edged populism than any thought possible in 2008. Trump is all but rooting for it. “People are proud of their countries, and I think you will see nationalism,” he says, before describing the growing backlash against Muslim migration in France, Belgium and Germany. “A lot of people reject some of the ideas that are being forced on them. And that’s certainly one of the reasons you had this vote, having to do not with the European Union but the same thing.”
In this view, Trump will find common cause with Vladimir Putin, the authoritarian President of Russia who, like Trump, seeks to challenge diplomatic and democratic norms. For reasons that remain unclear, Trump still refuses to acknowledge the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Putin’s agencies were responsible for stealing the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails released on WikiLeaks. “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump says. Asked if he thought the conclusion of America’s spies was politically driven, Trump says, “I think so.” Since the election, Trump has chosen not to consistently make himself available for intelligence briefings, say aides.
He has also so far refused to acknowledge established diplomatic boundaries. When the Pakistani government gave a long, apparently verbatim readout of its President’s call with Trump, India’s leaders reacted with strained nerves. Then Trump accepted a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, intentionally discarding a policy enforced since Jimmy Carter, which prompted an official complaint from China. In response, he sent out a tweet suggesting that such formalities, a bow to Chinese sensibilities, were ridiculous. “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call,” it read.
As he proved in the campaign, there are sometimes few negative consequences in politics for offending or painting a false picture of reality. History suggests the same is less true in international relations, where the stakes are not just votes at the ballot box but also the movement of armies and the lives of citizens. Among the tight circle that has formed around Trump, one can sense some unease as they try to navigate a mercurial boss to a successful first term. There is talk of strategies for steering him when he is wrong, for appealing to his own intention to succeed. And Trump himself, true to his reality-show persona, has a history of allowing his staff to fight among themselves for his attention. “If I had to describe his deliberating style, I would say that it’s very similar to Socratic method, just like in law school,” explains Priebus. “He asks a lot of questions, he wants answers to those questions to be thorough and quick, and he relies on the people giving him the answers to be accurate.”
Just a day earlier, Conway had gone on television to suggest that picking Romney, an old Trump foe, for Secretary of State was a terrible idea. Some Trump aides told reporters that this amounted to a betrayal of the boss, who had not yet made up his mind. Trump seemed to enjoy the spectacle. “I might not like it, but I thought it was fine,” he says at the dining-room table. “Otherwise I would have called her up.”
At the same time, Trump has tried to curtail some of his own bravado since the campaign. The day after the election, Priebus says, Trump told his aides in his apartment, “Guys, I’m for everybody in this country.” Last year, Trump boasted about the great instincts that led him to support forced deportation for all undocumented immigrants and a ban on Muslims from entering the country. He has since backed off both positions. “I mean, I’ve had some bad moments in the campaign,” he says. But then he notes that his poll numbers seemed to rise after several of them, including his insults of Arizona Senator John McCain’s war service.
Trump claims that his unpredictability will be his strength in office. It certainly has left the political world guessing. He has so far refused to describe how he will separate himself from the conflict of owning a company and employing his children who do regular business with foreigners. On the one hand, he supports a broad policy platform shared by conservatives in Congress: a reduction in regulations, lower taxes, a pull back from the fight against global warming, and a cabinet filled with free-market ideologues. On the other hand, he has signaled that he is willing to break from Republican doctrine. His designated Treasury Secretary, the former Goldman Sachs banker Steve Mnuchin, has said Trump would back off his campaign suggestion that he would give large net tax windfalls to the wealthiest. “Any reductions we have in upper-income taxes will be offset by less deductions,” Mnuchin said.
While Trump offered public words of support for the Iraq War at the time, he sees George W. Bush’s great adventure as a disaster now. He rejects wholesale the social conservative campaign to keep transgender people out of the bathrooms they choose, but promises to reward conservative ideologues with a Supreme Court Justice of their liking. And he has little patience for the organizing principle of the Tea Party: the idea that the federal government must live within its means and lower its debts. Instead, he seems to favor expensive new infrastructure spending and tax cuts as economic stimulus, much like Obama did in 2009. “Well, sometimes you have to prime the pump,” he says. “So sometimes in order to get jobs going and the country going, because, look, we’re at 1% growth.” The next day, the third-quarter gross-domestic-product estimates would be released, showing an increase of 3.2%, up from 1.4% earlier in the year.
He also suggests that some stock analysts may have misread his intentions. The value of biotechnology stocks, for example, which enjoy large profit margins under current law, rose 9% in the day after Trump’s election, a rally of relief that the price controls Clinton had proposed would not happen. But Trump says his goal has not wavered. “I’m going to bring down drug prices,” he says. “I don’t like what has happened with drug prices.”
As for the people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as youths and now have work visas under Obama, Trump did not back off his pledge to end Obama’s executive orders. But he made clear he would like to find some future accommodation for them. “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” he says, showing a sympathy for young migrants that was often absent during the campaign. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Trump’s America, for Better and Worse
The truth is no one really knows what is going to happen, up to and including the occupants of Trump Tower. “It’s a very exciting time. It’s really been an amazing time,” Trump says, as the country still tries to come to terms with what he accomplished. “Hopefully we can take some of the drama out.”
That’s not likely to happen anytime soon. Following a President who prided himself on sifting drama through the sieve of careful consideration, Trump’s methods, for better and worse, tend to be closer to the opposite. And this is now Trump’s America to run, a victory made possible either because of historical inevitability or individual brilliance, or some combination of the two.
It’s an America with rising stock markets despite the tremors of a trade war. A country where a few jobs saved makes up, in the moment, for the thousands still departing. This is a land where a man will stand up in a plane headed to Allentown, Pa., to demand allegiance to the new leader—”We got some Hillary bitches on here? Come on man, Trump! He’s your President, every goddamn one of you!”—and then get banned by the airline from ever traveling again. It’s where a hijab-wearing college student in New York reports being attacked and jeered at in the next President’s name, where American-born children ask their citizen parents if Trump will deport them, where white supremacists throw out Nazi salutes in Washington meeting halls for their President-elect.
It’s a country where many who felt powerless have a new champion, where much frustration has given way to excitement and where politics has become the greatest show on earth. Here men in combat helmets and military assault rifles now patrol the streets outside a golden residential tower in midtown Manhattan. And almost every day at about the same time they let pass a street performer who wears no pants, tight white underwear and cowboy boots, so he can sing a song in the lobby for the television cameras with Trump’s name written in red and blue on his butt. It’s an America of renewed hope and paralyzing fear, a country few expected less than a year ago. Because of Donald John Trump, whatever happens next, it will never be like it was before.
—With reporting by Zeke J. Miller/New York; Elizabeth Dias/Saginaw, Mich.; Haley Sweetland Edwards/Nanticoke, Pa.; and Karl Vick/Lancaster, Wis.
The outcome of the US election has created considerable uncertainty at the country’s future policy directions towards the Asia-Pacific. While it is difficult to predict how US economic diplomacy in the region will change, the rule-based order it has led remains crucial to regional security and stability.
As a general rule, the United States has had more care for the development of the international system of global trade and investment than many other countries. Rather than acting unilaterally, the United States often deliberately constrains itself by acting through the IMF, WTO, the World Bank and other multilateral bodies. While it has used explicit economic levers at times — such as infrastructure spending, concessional finance or highly preferential trade deals — the United States has done so to a noticeably lesser extent than other powers for at least two reasons.
First, the great and successful US experiment with constitutionalism has led to clearly defined and separate roles for the public and the private sector. The constitution constrains what various US administrations may do in the short run. But in the long run this increases certainty and enables businesses to prosper through hard work and ingenuity. Separation of powers also limits the US government in its discretion on how to achieve economic ends internationally. The United States simply doesn’t have large state-owned enterprises or development banks that can be directed to international ends.
The second reason why the United States has been exceptionalist in economic diplomacy is pure realpolitik. As the dominant global power, the US benefited from economic activity almost irrespective of where it occurred around the globe. Immediately after World War II, the institutions set up with the support of the United States to regulate businesses around the globe to a significant extent set rules for its own businesses. But as we transition to a more multipolar world there is a risk that the link between US interests and the interests of the global economy is becoming less clear-cut.
History shows that increased trade and investment delivers job opportunities and rising living standards. We have all benefited from the US inclination for international rules over the exercise of arbitrary power. Global rules and norms have allowed businesses, and even countries, to specialise in production and for investment to flow where it is most valued. As I have said elsewhere, the rules-based order effectively underwrote the massive explosion of regional incomes – from Japan, to the Asian Tigers of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, and now China, India, Indonesia and others.
Despite some shortcomings, the US model of economic diplomacy is still the right bet for our region. First, it’s flexible. The rules-based order creates the conditions for markets to flourish — and markets pivot faster than governments. Second, it’s voluntary. Relying on markets fits neatly with the ‘ASEAN way’ of doing economic diplomacy which emphasises non-interference and relationship building.
It is a strength of the system that the rising emerging countries now want to participate in setting the global rules. These aspirations are legitimate and the alternative scenario of competing trade and investment blocs is deeply unappealing.
The rules-based order encourages countries to implement best practice policy settings. For example, in recent decades we have seen US multinationals bring expectations around the rule of law and transparent regulations to markets around the world.
Perhaps most importantly, the US model of engaging internationally — with soft power and economic dynamism — is a success. Economic success is the foundation of economic diplomacy. Failing to pursue policies that foster dynamism, help manage shocks, and deliver citizens what they desire and value, risks the capacity to project power and sustain influence. Economic success makes US society attractive around the world, and it is US businesses abroad which help sell the American dream. US soft power remains unsurpassed.
Without a doubt, developments during President-elect Trump’s term will have a lasting impact on how the United States does business in this region. Yet if the United States retreats, whether in terms of economic, trade or military engagement, there is really only one other single player that could attempt to fill the vacuum. China’s economy is as big as the next 13 largest emerging countries combined, though its GDP growth is obviously slowing as it approaches the technological frontier, and with its ageing and shrinking working population.
It is clear that the United States needs help in maintaining support for global rule setting.
The United States needs the support of its friends and allies to maintain its focus on this region and on far-sighted and open regionalism. This is in our interest — indeed, in the interest of all countries in the region. With the slump in trade growth, the world has lost a key engine of economic growth that benefits all in the world. This requires other countries to step up and do more of the heavy lifting to advocate for the promotion of open markets, the importance of foreign investment and trade, and the benefits of immigration.
While we all need to get used to US dominance being replaced by pre-eminence, continuing to develop the rules-based order could be the most important legacy bequeathed to our region from the US primacy of the 20th century. US president Calvin Coolidge famously said that, ‘After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world’. Since business is certainly something the new US President-elect knows a lot about, we should all aim to ensure that this legacy will continue.
Martin Parkinson is the Secretary of Australia’s Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This is an edited version of an address originally delivered at the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia in Sydney on 16 November 2016
The US vote in favour of President-elect Donald Trump was a shock for Russian leaders, though a delightful one. According to public opinion surveys, Russia was the only country in the world that preferred Trump over Hillary Clinton. Post-election, the Kremlin argued that Trump and Putin’s views on major issues were very close and expressed cautious optimism that Russia–US relations could improve. In turn, Trump has repeatedly said that he would like ‘to get along with Russia’.
Putin and Trump seem to have chemistry absent in the Russian leader’s relations with both current US President Barack Obama and with Hillary Clinton. Trump is a pragmatic deal-maker, not an ideologue. He is not going to call Russia out on democracy or human rights. If Clinton had won, confrontation with Russia would have continued, and may have even escalated considering that Clinton’s foreign policy entourage included many figures with strong anti-Russia and anti-Putin views. Trump does not have any preconceived notions about Russia. He is therefore more likely to succeed in making a fresh start with Moscow — or at least in avoiding dangerous clashes in places like Ukraine and Syria.
But most importantly, the incoming Trump administration has a fairly good chance of getting along with Russia because of the president-elect’s foreign policy philosophy.
Trump is keen to scale back the United States’ international commitments in order to concentrate resources on domestic priorities. Putting the United States’ own house in order is much more important to him — and, it seems, to his supporters — than performing the role of global policeman.
Trump’s views appear to be close to offshore balancing, a concept promoted by American realist thinkers such as Christopher Layne and Steven Walt. The offshore balancing grand strategy calls for eschewing costly onshore commitments and getting other states to do more for their own security.
Offshore balancing emphasises that the current US policy of maintaining global primacy is unsustainable because it can lead to imperial overstretch. Instead, it envisions a multipolar system in which the United States will still be the strongest player, although not a preponderant and overbearing one. Offshore balancing also stresses that the United States’ comparative strategic advantages rest in naval and air power. This is very much in line with Trump’s stated desire to build up the US naval forces.
If Trump follows at least some precepts of offshore balancing, this will relieve much of the current tensions in US–Russia relations. After all, a multi-polar world is exactly what Russia wants. Moscow may even agree to grant Washington the status of ‘first among equals’, provided Russia is given due respect as a great power. If Trump shifts military investments from the continental theatres of Europe and the Middle East toward the naval theatre of East Asia, this will only please Moscow. Historically, Russia has seen its main security concerns as lying to the west and south of its borders. The Asia Pacific is still of secondary importance.
If the Trump administration avoids lecturing Moscow on democracy (which is very likely) and strikes a grand bargain with the Kremlin on Ukraine and Syria (which is less likely but still possible), that would usher in a period of rapprochement in US–Russia relations.
But the most interesting question in all of this is: what impact will the Russian–US détente have on Russia’s ‘strategic partnership’ with China? Since 2012, ties between Moscow and Beijing have been expanding and deepening, especially in the political–military domain. Russo–Chinese alignment has mostly been driven by shared opposition to the United States, which they accuse of hegemonic pretensions and suspect of seeking to subvert their political regimes.
Moscow’s estrangement from the West in the wake of the Ukraine crisis has made it increasingly dependent on Beijing — and deferent to Chinese interests in East Asia. But if Moscow normalises relations with Washington, it will be less interested in pursuing a far-reaching entente with China. This will remove the risk of the Asia-Pacific being divided into two camps: the Beijing–Moscow axis versus Washington and its allies. The Sino–Russian partnership will continue, but it will shed much of its current anti-US overtones, with the emphasis shifting to economics and trade. Moscow will feel less obligated to support China on contentious issues in East Asia, such as the South China Sea.
Russia will also act as a more independent and proactive player on the Korean peninsula. It is an open secret that Moscow’s harsh protestations against the THAAD missile defence system in South Korea were caused not by immediate concerns about its impact on Russian security, but rather at the behest of Beijing. On the North Korea issue, Russia is interested in the resumption of the Six Party Talks, which may be possible if Trump decides to reopen a dialogue with Pyongyang. With relations between Beijing and Pyongyang marked by growing distrust, Russia is now the only neighbour with whom North Korea remains on more or less friendly terms, which could enable Moscow to play a mediating role.
The Trump victory will also affect Russia’s relations with Japan. The stark fact that US alliances can no longer be considered ‘ironclad’ has now been laid bare. Even though Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign leader to be granted an audience with the president-elect, Japan is unlikely to regain full confidence in the alliance. This makes it imperative for Tokyo to look for more partners in order to hedge against a rising China. Russia is one obvious choice. After the Trump win, we may expect Prime Minister Abe to re-double his efforts to court Putin.
Artyom Lukin is Associate Professor at the School of Regional and International Studies, Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok.
As they do without fail every year, UMNO leaders, bleeders and pleaders are busy putting the ‘ass’ into ‘general assembly’ with a series of speeches so false and fatuous they would disgrace a herd of donkeys. Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak opened proceedings with an astonishing combination of braying and praying.
“God, do not let this country, and the fate of this race (Malays) fall into the hands of traitors and the wicked,” he beseeched Allah, as if the Almighty wouldn’t be as aware as the rest of us that the true traitors and wicked are allegedly Najib himself and his UMNO accomplices.
But nothing daunted, he then went even further, with “Oh, great God, we promise to fight to the death until we have spilled our last drop of blood.”
Let me interject at this point with the perhaps obvious but nonetheless pertinent remark that a great many of us would pay good money to witness Najib and his fellow members of UMNO deliver on this promise.
In fact, however unwillingly and even unwittingly, Malaysians have paid countless billions of dollars over the past half-century or so through theft by UMNO, and it’s high time that the people got some value for their money through witnessing demise of the alleged regime blood-suckers.
Not that such a desirable denoument is likely, of course, at least on the part of Najib himself, as at every sign of conflict or trouble he goes into hiding and gets his ministers, police force, judiciary, mainstream media and paid gangs of thugs to do his fighting for him.
And in any event, in this very speech he revealed how utterly empty his fighting words were, as he proceeded from promising the last drop of his blood to spouting some story about the Prophet and the Angel Gabriel in support of the totally conflicting conclusion that “so I think we should no longer waste our time and energy to entertain or fight traitors to the race and country.”
Similarly confused and confusing, if not so blood-thirsty, was the urging by Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin to the Malays, on whose credulity and racial and religious paranoia UMNO has so successfully promoted and preyed on all these years, to “discard their defensive mindset and chase after progress.”
“Malays,” he continued, “should not be a race that is anti-knowledge, anti-competition and seeking for a ‘crutch’ to aid them,” before going on to thank Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak no less than 11 times for the complex of crutches that Najib has provided in his so-called ‘TN50’ programme for the betterment of Malaysia (but especially Malays) by not the year 2020 as previously envisaged by Mahathir Mohamad, but by 2050.
By which such time, unless he has fought to his last drop of blood for Najib before then, Khairy, as he said, will be 70 years old.
Ambitious Crown Prince of UMNO who stands to benefit when Najib falls from power–101% behind the Prime Minister with a dagger(?)
And the rest of us who happen to survive that long will be feeling more like 700 years old, after decades more deadly-dreary UMNO general ass-emblies like this one, in which the Deputy Prime Minister (Zahid Hamidi) preposterously compared the Malaysian opposition to the Nazis by claiming that allegations of Najib’s massive embezzlement of public funds via the fake national wealth fund “1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) is a Hitlerian ‘big lie’.”
When of course, as has long been glaringly obvious, there is nothing so Nazi or fascist as Umno, in every way from its destruction of democratic institutions to its politically-complicit police and judiciary and its mendacious, regime-propagandist mainstream media.
Blaming woes on diverse scapegoats
Meanwhile, wife of the principle suspect in the notorious RM250-million National Feedlot Corporation scam and Wanita UMNO Chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil joined Zahid Hamidi and Khairy Jamaluddin in blaming UMNO’s (and thus Malaysia’s) woes on such diverse scapegoats as Dr Mahathir, perennial regime bogeyman Jewish-American financier and philanthropist George Soros and the BERSIH movement.
BERSIH being the biggest regime bugbear of all, as the UMNO gang is not so asinine as to imagine it can survive the kind of clean, free and fair elections for which this admirable organisation keeps loudly and publicly calling.
And this 2016 annual UMNO General ass-embly is likely the last one before the general election that Najib clearly intends to call as soon as he thinks he can get away with it.
Before, that is, investigations in the US, Switzerland and sundry other countries around the world can reach their findings in investigations of the 1MDB fiasco, and possibly then institute criminal proceedings against Najib and his partners in this scam.
So it is more urgent than ever for all of us who are sick to death of UMNO’s making a Malassia out of Malaysia and Malassians out of Malaysians to do everything in our power to finally find a way – any way – to kick this gang of crooks out on their asses.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn becomes Rama X of Thailand’s Chakri Dynasty, but will not formally be crowned until after his father’s cremation, which is expected next year.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn became the King of Thailand late Thursday, opening a new chapter for the powerful monarchy in a country still mourning the death of his father.
The 64-year-old Prince inherits one of the world’s richest monarchies as well as a politically febrile nation, 50 days after King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death.
After weeks of complex palace protocols the Prince was invited by the head of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to ascend the throne in an event broadcast on all Thai television channels.
“I agree to accept the wishes of the late King… for the benefit of the entire Thai people,” said Vajiralongkorn, wearing an official white tunic decorated with medals and a pink sash.
The sombre, ritual-heavy ceremony at his Bangkok palace was attended by the Chief of the NLA, junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha, and the powerful 96-year-old head of the privy council, Prem Tinsulanonda.
Red-jacketed courtiers looked on as a palace staff member, shuffling on his knees, presented the new King with a microphone through which he delivered his few words of acceptance.
His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn then prostrated himself, hands pressed together in respect, to a small shrine topped by a picture of his father and mother —Her Majesty Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara.
He becomes Rama X of Thailand’s Chakri dynasty, but will not formally be crowned until after his father’s cremation, which is expected next year.
Bhumibol’s reign, which ended on October 13, spanned a tumultuous period of Thai history pockmarked by a communist insurgency, coups and street protests.
It also saw breakneck development which has resulted in a huge wealth disparity between a Bangkok-centric elite and the rural poor.To many Thais, Bhumibol was the only consistent force in a politically combustible country, his image burnished by ritual and shielded by a harsh royal defamation law.
The United States offered its congratulations to the new King, saying it looked forward to strengthening ties with Thailand. “We offer our best wishes to his majesty and all of the Thai people,” the State Department said.
“His father, King Bhumibol, ruled the Kingdom of Thailand with vision and compassion for 70 years and was a great friend of the United States. The United States and Thailand enjoy a longstanding, strong, and multifaceted bilateral relationship, and we look forward to deepening that relationship and strengthening the bonds between our two countries and peoples going forward.”
Into the limelight
Monks chanted blessings at Buddhist temples to mark the new monarch’s ascension — an era-defining moment for most Thais who for seven decades knew only Bhumibol as their King.
His Majesty Vajiralongkorn does not yet enjoy the same level of popularity.He spends much of his time outside of the public eye, particularly in southern Germany where he owns property.
He has had three high-profile divorces, while a recent police corruption scandal linked to the family of his previous wife allowed the public a rare glimpse of palace affairs.
Thursday’s ascension ends a period of uncertainty since Bhumibol’s death prompted by the Prince’s request to delay his official proclamation so he could mourn with the Thai people.
Thailand’s constitutional monarchy has limited formal powers but it draws the loyalty of much of the kingdom’s business elite as well as a military that dominates politics through its regular coups.
Analysts say His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn, untested until now, will have to manage competing military cliques.
In a brief televised address after the ceremony, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who as army chief led the 2014 coup, praised the new King “as the head of the Thai state and heart of the Thai people.”
The Thai monarchy is protected from criticism by one of the world’s strictest lese majeste laws, carrying up to 15 years in jail for every charge of defaming the King, Queen, heir or regent.
That law makes open discussion about the Royal Family’s role all but impossible inside the Kingdom and means all media based inside the country routinely self-censor. Convictions for so-called “112” offences — named after its criminal code — have skyrocketed since the Generals seized power in 2014.
Experts say most have targeted the junta’s political opponents, many of whom support the toppled civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
The emergence of Yingluck’s brother Thaksin in 2001, a vote-winning billionaire seen by many of the rural poor as their champion, prompted the recent round of political conflict. The army and royalist establishment have toppled two governments led by the siblings, accusing them of nepotism and corruption.