The other anniversary

21 09 2010

From Reuters

PPT has posted sparingly on the anniversary of the 2006 coup, relying mainly on the reports available at other sources. However, that other anniversary that also fell on 19 September deserves some consideration.

This is the anniversary of the king’s hospitalization for unspecified and unexplained illnesses. Fever, loss of appetite and lung inflammation don’t usually amount top more than a year in hospital. The king has been in Siriraj Hospital for a year. As PPT earlier posted, if one reads the press reports, he’s been in full recovery mode for about 11.9 of the 12 months in hospital. This kind of nonsense reporting is the rule rather than the exception.

Of course the mechanistic among the media come up with the expected stories that tell of the “9,000 Thais who visit a Bangkok hospital to pray each day for the health of 82-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, lighting joss sticks and laying flower garlands.” They don’t say that most of those 9,000 (but see figures below) are organized by state agencies like the Ministry of Interior and that officials are essentially required to attend at least once.

Actually, the TAN Network has more details: “Representatives of various organizations continue to travel to Siriraj Hospital to convey their best wishes to His Majesty the King. Civic groups from provinces around Thailand join other visitors in signing well-wishes for His Majesty the King at the Centennial Pavilion at Siriraj Hospital today. Among the well-wishers are officials from the 29th Infantry Regiment’s 3rd Battalion in Kanchanaburi, health volunteers from Bang Sai subdistrict in Chonburi’s Muang district and staff of the Thanyarak Institute of the Medical Services Department in Pathum Thani. More than 613,400 people [i.e. about 6,000 a day] from all walks of life have signed visit books for His Majesty during the past 100 days after the well-wishing activity was resumed. Of that number, around 6,500 came yesterday [8 September] alone.”

But at least this Reuters story goes a step further and notes that “Thailand faces hard questions over the future of its most powerful institution and whether it can sustain its traditional role as pillar of stability in times of upheaval.”

Oops, there’s the “pillar of stability” cliche, usually associated with 1973 and 1992, as if Paul Handley’s book The King Never Smiles had never been written. More than ever before, the monarchy is in disarray and its armed protectors and its essentially royalist government are working hard to repress and defeat opposition.

While the “royal family say the king’s health has improved and he remains in hospital only for physical therapy. In rare appearances, he is … looking frail but speaking clearly.” At the same time, the royal family creates anxiety and trepidation because they also portray the king as infallible and indispensable, which makes the unexplained illness a political problem and is just one more area where there is no transparency related to the monarchy. Even a rumor of the king’s demise leads to a witch hunt for the rumor mongers.

The Reuters report continues, saying that the king “has not addressed the political crisis. That has not changed Thailand’s reverence for their … king, whose image hangs from shops, homes and office towers across the nation.” Wrong on both counts. His speeches to judges and discussions with the prime minister were deeply political and about the post-Thaksin Shinawatra political crisis that owes much to the palace’s political meddling. And, the monarchy is now hated by many red shirts who see it as partisan and politically regressive.

The notion that there is “a perception among some Thais that the monarchy has been drawn into the political struggle that is polarising the country” is correct, but probably more see the monarchy as a direct participant and responsible for the crisis because it has repeatedly supported those who overturn the political will of the electorate. As the report observes, many red shirts see their fight as with “aristocrats and the royalist elite who back Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and are accused of orchestrating a 2006 coup that ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.”

The question: “Whether the political bickering is changing how largely Buddhist Thailand views the monarchy is unclear. Many still regard the king as having unassailable moral authority” deserves to be a statement. The king’s authority and that of the royal family is substantially diminished.



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