Although it could well be argued that the popularity of HM the King is incomparably vaster, the core constituencies of the deposed prime minister and the reigning sovereign overlap considerably.
I'm talking about the rural poor.*
The two most powerful men in Thailand approach this group -- which comprises the vast majority of the Thai population -- very differently; their respective visions for rural Thailand differ immensely.
The first vision, espoused by Thai royalists, is the notion of the happy peasantry -- uncorrupted by global consumerist culture, absolutely loyal to the monarchy which protects them. This view of the Thai countryside is captured by the term "Sufficiency Economy." It's a philosophy espoused by HM the King. The path to this ends is sometimes referred to as "Thai-style democracy."
The second vision, that of the deposed populist Prime Minister, views Thailand's poor as future consumers and entrepreneurs. It sees them as members of a rudimentary welfare state which extends to them low-interest loans and medical insurance.
The basic question of Thailand today, underlying the coup -- underlying today's election -- is whether poor rural voters are full and equal participants in government. Shortly after the 2006 coup, University of Michigan historian Thongchai Winichakul wrote:
Democracy anywhere in the world is never a rule of the educated, the smarter, the urban, or the better-informed. It is a rule by popular mandate. No matter if/how ignorant people are, the elected government has the rights to rule. It is true that democracy does not mean only election. But election is the ultimate and inviolable source of legitimacy to rule. The higher moral or good ethics is not. The higher education is not. The better access to information is not. Nor are weapons or any unelected aristocrats . . .So what's next for Thailand? General Prem,** who ought to know the answer to this question as well as anyone, had this to say:
Question: After following the events all year, what is__________
your main concern for the country?
General Prem: The king’s advice must be kept firmly in
mind and put it into practice.
Photo: By Jotman. Depicts the 2006 coup as it unfolded on the streets of Bangkok. More here.
* Essentially, this is a point which has been made by observers of Thailand, summarized here.
** From this recent interview.