Wishful pessimism

5 12 2009

PPT has been reading the plethora of editorials and aritcles about the king’s birthday. What seems remarkable is that the tone has changed this year. The ongoing political struggle that directly involves the palace and the position of the monarchy and the king’s prolonged illness seem to have caused many to think that this may be one of the last celebrations for the king and a realization that the future of the monarchy is anything but assured.

The Bangkok Post (5 December 2009: “Honouring His Majesty’s wish”) decides to take up the Map Ta Phut case and suggest taht the recent decisions are a triumph of a and “environmentalist king,” neglecting his fetish for big dams, regular conflicts with environmentalists and the fact that, at Map Tha Put, royal-associated companies are major problems.

The Post’s article on the large government organized celebration of the birthday (5 December 2009: “Thais begin a day of joy”) makes the king’s extended illness seem a blessing because the king will appear in public for only the third time in 11 weeks. The story lists his previous two appearances as triumphs, when it seems that he was still ill and debilitated .

The Nation’s Thanong Khanthong (5 December 2009: “Lord of Suvarnabhumi”) can’t come up with anything original and writes of the king’s childish story from more than a decade ago, Mahajanaka. Thanong adds little apart from implying that there is a Buddha-to-be  status associated with the monarch.

Another Nation writer (5 November 2009: “Love is free and all have the freedom to love the King”), Veena Thoopkrajae, feels the need to convince “foreigners” that devotion to the king is real: “Perhaps having to stand up for a few minutes while the anthem plays in a movie theatre can be considered by some extreme pro-rights activists as an infringement on freedom, but most Thai people would say they were willing to stand even longer for His Majesty if needed.”

More perversely, Veena claims that this mandate, enforced through lese majeste laws, is an act o f freedom: “From the Thai perspective, the ritual perhaps represents our freedom – the freedom to express our gratitude to our hard-working King, the freedom to honour his goodness and the freedom to accord the respect we have for our monarch an essential part of our culture. From a wider perspective, our ritual represents our sovereign right and Thailand’s right to have a king.”

As well as being pretty silly, this sounds remarkably defensive. And it gets more so: “When I’m asked about this undying devotion …  I just say: ‘Whether you feel loyal or you don’t, it doesn’t matter. The monarchy is not a dictatorship. You can lead your life any way you want as long as you keep your thoughts to yourself’.” Here Veena simply gets it wrong for acts of lyalty are demanded on a daily basis and acts considered disloyal are punished and huge and expensive efforts are made to prevent any display of loyalty.

2Bangkok.com reproduces some of the overs of Thai-language magazines and newspapers and if readers scroll down they’ll find a shirt story about the huge efforts by the government to celebrate the king’s birthday: “the authorities have ramped up and extended the celebrations. The network of street closures has also been increased this year. This is all to foster a sense of unity and it conveniently has stymied Red Shirt attempts to protest at this time as they previously planned.”

The propaganda is sounding tired but also rather pessimistic.

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