The media did its bit to mark the king’s 88th birthday. Given the significance of 8 for auspiciousness and good luck, it might have been thought that the 2015 birthday celebrations would be cause for another massive royal propaganda effort.
And extensive though they were due to junta demands on officials nationwide, this year’s celebrations were distinctly more low-key than in previous years.
One reason for this is that it has long been accepted that the king himself would be a no-show. He’s been in hospital for years, sometimes barely alive, and has not been seen in public since 1 September. He is clearly in no condition to make a speech or even to wave very much (waving is an important royal ritual). Last year it was said he’d make a speech but was a no-show “on medical advice.”
The Nation might report that “[m]illions of Thais nationwide wore yellow shirts yesterday as they joined various activities to mark the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whom they regard as the country’s unifying figure and father,” but this is speaking of a period that has passed, royally and politically.
Yes, “[a]venues in the capital and main streets in the provinces were decorated with lights and festooned with the King’s image,” but these are all photos of the king of yesteryear, often of three and four decades ago, and while many Thais may fear for the future without the only king they have known, his passing is so drawn out that the end of the era is accepted. They may “honor” the king, but they know it may be the last time they do this before his death and the extensive funeral rites.
The small numbers mentioned in the events listed in The Nation’s report attest to the changes that have been made in national psyche, even if the military junta continues to promote monarchism as a regime-maintaining strategy.
The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha seemed little engaged but “chaired the candle-lighting ceremony at Sanam Luang last night.”
Long-designated as the king’s successor, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn “yesterday led a number of religious and royal ceremonies to mark the King’s birthday.” His big contribution is the Bike for Dad event on 11 December. That event has been mired in corruption allegations, deaths in custody and lese majeste claims although the exact reasons for these inauspicious events remains a mystery.
The junta has claimed that “more than 600,000 people” will participate and many of them will be officials, students and others ordered to “participate.”