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Thousands come out to show support for Thai King on Rama 9 birthday

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PHOTO: VOA/AP

Yellow-shirted supporters and royalists greeted HM King Maha Vajiralongkorn yesterday as he headed up birthday commemorations for his revered late father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. It was the latest in a series of high profile public appearances that coincides with unprecedented challenges to the Thai monarchy from student-led protesters. December 5 is commemorated as Fathers Day each year in Thailand.

HM King Maha Vajiralongkorn, accompanied by HM Queen Suthida, waved at thousands of loyal enthusiasts as they arrived at Bangkok’s Sanam Luang ceremonial ground, adjacent to the Grand Palace. The crowd were waving Thai and yellow royal flags whilst cheering “Long live the King”. The yellow shirts symbolise the colour associated with the royal institution but have also been hijacked by political groups loyal to the Monarchy, Army and conservative governments and politicians.

His Majesty led the crowd in a candlelit tribute to his late father, whose giant image was at the centre of the stage with the Grand Palace providing a grand backdrop indeed. King Bhumibhol Adulyadej died in October 2016. The latest public appearance by His Majesty follows a list of highly staged, but uncommon appearances. It’s also been the longest period HM has been in Thailand since his coronation in May 2019.

King Bhumibhol reigned over Thailand for 70 years, acquiring a reputation for selfless work in the service of his country, an image endlessly propagated by the Thai media and a consistent flow of PR from the palace. Although the role of the monarch was changed in 1932, when Thailand opted for a constitutional monarchy instead of an absolute monarchy, Rama 9 was widely respected. But it was also during his reign that the tradition of kowtowing and prostrating in front of the monarch returned, along with the strict lese majeste laws, which criminalise any criticism of the Thai monarch.

But since King Bhumibhol death in 2016, and the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the Thai monarchy’s standing, locally and internationally, has been under threat. It was in August this year that, publicly, a list of demands was first read out at a student protest. That 10 point manifesto, included demands for the role of the Thai monarch to be enshrined in a new constitution, limiting his powers. The public criticism of the King, and the role of the Thai monarchy, spearheaded the protests that followed and pitted the establishment against a rising tide of younger, educated Thais, including many students.

Either coincidentally or in response to the increasing public dissent, King Vajiralongkorn has undertaken an unprecedented wave of public appearances in Bangkok. Rather than the polite, deferential crowds lining the streets, the appearances have served as rallying opportunities for thousands of yellow-clad conservative Thai royalists to show their support for the sovereign and the status quo.

His Majesty has been much more relaxed at the recent public appearances than his previously stern and reserved image, publicly thanking and encouraging those who have shown their support for him. HM the Queen has also been a hit during these staged public meetings with a broad smile, even encouraging King Vajiralongkorn to get closer to the lines of people during the walkabouts.

Over the past week at least 12 protest leaders have been officially charged with lese majeste and face long prison sentences if found guilty. The government has used the computer crime act, and more recently the lese majeste laws, to suppress the protests and threaten the protest leaders.

 

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