Let there be no doubt in your mind, the people of Thailand love their king. They are fanatically devoted to him. There is none of that ‘ordained by god’ stuff, they just think that he is an incredible guy, one who might well have attained enlightenment had he been able to follow his career path as a monk, and not been forced into royal duty by the untimely and mysterious death of his older brother.
One should take care to avoid any discussion about how the king’s brother, the heir to the throne and a devout Thai nationalist, was found dead, having been accidentally shot by his younger brother (the current king) using a gun that had been given him by a CIA agent, and why two palace aides were subsequently executed, despite the lack of any evidence of wrongdoing on their part. Nor should one probe too deeply into the question of why the younger brother, named king later that day, enacted policy favourable to the US and western influence on Thailand. Mentioning any of this while in Thailand would have you jailed. By simply posting this information online, one may face being banned from entry into Thailand, and possibly being arrested on arrival. Of course, I am suggesting this as a work of pure fiction, an outlandish conspiracy theory, and would never believe any of this to be anything vaguely resembling the truth. The Thai king is a wonderful, wonderful human being, and I hold him in the highest regard. Really. 😉
Born in Boston, MA, and educated in Switzerland, the king is an avid amateur photographer, and enjoys playing the saxophone, driving Fiats, and taking long walks on the beach. Bhumibol Adulyadej (pronounced Phumi-pon Adoon-yaday, meaning “Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power”) is now the longest reigning living monarch on the planet; although like the monarchs of Europe, much of his power is symbolic, after he escorted the country into democracy over 60 years ago. As I have mentioned, it is a criminal offense under lèse majesté laws to speak any ill of him, and abusing or defacing images of him also carries a criminal sentence. So much as accidentally stepping on a bill bearing his image might land you in jail. One might carefully ask if his reverence is brought about by the complete absence of governmental criticism, but there are no laws forbidding free speech when it comes to the elected government.
Or at least, that’s what the government would have you think. There are, after all, more than 50,000 web sites that are banned by the Thai government, and many books, movies (The King and I) etc, which are illegal to import or possess in Thailand. They claim that it is all in the name of the king, but not all of the banned material is of kingly nature, suggesting that there is a great desire to shape the will and opinion of the people much as there is everywhere else in the world. In Thailand, as in many other Asian countries, the manipulation is far more obvious by its sheer omission of information. In North America, cruder tactics, such as the release of massive amounts of disinformation must be resorted to.
In 2006, (one year prior to our arrival in Thailand), the military had staged a coupe, taking over the government in the name of justice. It was a bloodless coupe, with none of the violence that one might associate with the toppling of an elected government. It occurred in the wake of a long and painful process in which the previously elected government had been accused of corruption. They subsequently held an election to prove that the people would forgive them. They then tampered with the election, by creating fake parties and opponents in rural areas to allow rural peoples to vote, while manipulating them emotionally.
The ruling party did win the election, but the victory was ruled a fraud by a judge, and the party was ordered to step down. Several months later, with no action on the government’s part, the military stepped in, promising to undo much of the damage and policy of the previous government (including censorship). The elections were scheduled for later in 2007, and many were calling for the military to step down, and not partake in the election.
There was a tense moment in 2007, as the courts had to rule on what election rules had been violated in the elections of April 2006, and by whom. The leading party was accused of raising the false opponents, and the opposition, the Democratic Party, were accused of encouraging citizens to become false opponents to the elected government. Confusing, to say the least. One of the possible outcomes of the pending ruling was that one or both of the political parties could be disbanded and prevented from forming participating in politics for 5 years.
The night before the ruling, things were tense in Bangkok, and the military was out in full force in expectation of any riots that might happen. Martial law was still in effect throughout much of Thailand, although it didn’t seem to have much effect on anything, as people were still more or less able to go about their daily affairs. At that point, the king stepped in, as much as a figurehead could. He made a public announcement that the judges needed to make very wise decisions, and that the wrong decision would be disastrous for Thailand. This carried a strong implication that the Democratic Party must remain intact, or there would be no hope of elections, leaving the military in power.
Sure enough, the judges voted to disband the former ruling party, and the Democratic Party was freed of all charges. The former Prime Minister was exiled, and the future of the nation was in limbo. The people of Thailand were left to sit and wait, in the hopes that they could once again have free elections soon. Not a pleasant prospect with the military under no dictate to hand over the reins of power.
In late 2007, free elections were held, and the sister of the former Prime Minister was elected. She enacted a new constitution, amended from the previously standing one, and maintained the democratic rule of Thailand as a constitutional monarchy. As of 2015, the king was in ill health. The new constitution had been revoked, and the military once again held power in Thailand. Martial Law was in effect, and military courts presided over many matters. The political future of Thailand is still in question, and one can only hope that democratic rule will return soon, with or without a king.