Thai King limits public outings for birthday celebrations | Connect Asia

Thai King limits public outings for birthday celebrations

Thai King limits public outings for birthday celebrations

Updated 18 January 2012, 18:55 AEDT

Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej will appear in public on Saturday at Bangkok's Grand Palace on his 82nd birthday.

However palace officials say his traditional birthday eve address has been postponed indefinitely. King Bhumibol, the world's longest-reigning monarch, has been hospitalised since September 19th.

Presenter: Sonja Heydeman

Speaker: Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director, Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok

PONGSUDHIRAK: This is a time of deep-seated political crisis and polarization and in the past the role of the King has been a stabiliser, a uniter of the Thai people at times of crisis like this, and the King's health has also been a concern to the Thai people because Thailand has been never known in recent memory without His Majesty the King. So apart from his provisional role as a stabilising uniting force arbiter, that he has been hospitalised for almost two months now is a deep concern to the Thai people. And this news is going to be treated with a lot of trepidation and concern for the future. At the same time this sort of news from the Royal household bureau will not be widely discussed in Thailand because of the lese majeste law, because of the recent arrest of individuals who have been deemed to have offended the institution of the monarchy. We are in a bit of a pent-up situation where the future needs to be discussed but discussing the future has been deemed a crime and a bad omen for the present, and this is something that Thailand has not been able to find a way out of.

HEYDEMAN: Four people face charges in relation to allegedly spreading rumours. Is this something that makes people terribly fearful from asking questions or perhaps openly discussing this matter?

PONGSUDHIRAK: That lese majeste law along with the Computer Crimes Act, which is a softer version of it, has been applied all throughout the last couple of years and a number of people have been indicted, convicted. So it has an intimidating coercive effect in suppressing dissent, suppressing even fair-minded views. It adds to the pent-up boiler situation in Thailand where on the top of it you have the legal feeling, the legal suppression from lese majeste, from Computer Crimes Act; at the bottom of it pushing up you have this official indoctrination through the media, through education, through government propaganda, and it's not healthy for Thailand. I think that most people know that we are seeing the end of Thailand as we know it, but the shape and form of the new Thailand that is emerging is being contested. But because we cannot discuss the shape and form of the emerging Thailand it makes it for a very volatile situation ahead.

HEYDEMAN: And what is your view of the emerging Thailand that we will be seeing?

PONGSUDHIRAK: For the general audience outside Thailand what is taking place here is protracted and prolonged, it's confusing, it's volatile. Broadly speaking what is happening to my mind is Thailand is like a woman in labour, there are birth pangs and there are labour pains and a lot of frustration and stress and pressure, and this process may be long drawn out, but the emerging Thailand that will come out of it remains to be shaped by the forces that are jostling for position ahead of the Royal succession because it is something that is not discussed but it is in the back of the minds of all the protagonists. So we have to find a way in Thailand to find a new consensus to regain an agreement and an understanding among the forces at work that the rules have to be accepted. Those rules will have to be revamped and restructured to placate and accommodate the new demands and grievances and expectations of the Thai electorate. What is happening is that you basically have on the one side a conservative royalist movement who is understandably fearful of the things to come. On the other hand you have the Red Shirts, some of them are pro-Thaksin but not all. These people have new expectations and demands, they want to see Thailand move into the 21st century, somehow be compatible in its democratic rule and its constitutional monarchy. So that is really the fundamental underlying force and contention at work; the capability, somehow the adjustment between constitutional monarchy and a working democracy.

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