- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 27, 2010

BANGKOK | Conspicuously absent during weeks of sometimes deadly clashes between government forces and Red Shirt demonstrators has been any word from this nation’s king — Bhumibol Adulyadej, the 82-year-old monarch who has resolved previous political disruptions with gentle, constitutionally mandated persuasion.

Wheelchair-bound and ailing, King Bhumibol is revered by most in this predominantly Buddhist, Southeast Asian country, including the government forces supporting Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who came to office in 2008, and the pro-democracy Red Shirts backed by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled from power in a 2006 military coup.

The king spoke Monday for the first time since Thailand was swept up into political turmoil that has killed 25 people, injured hundreds of others, closed some parts of downtown Bangkok and threatened the stability of a staunch U.S. ally in this region. Speaking from his hospital, where he has been treated for various ailments since September, he told new judges to do their duty.

RELATED STORY: Protesters disrupt Bangkok train service

“In the country, there might be people who neglect their duties, but you can set an example that there are those who perform their duties strictly and honestly,” King Bhumibol said, as reported by the Associated Press.

It was not clear whether the king was referring to authorities who have failed to quell the uprisings or to mostly rural protesters who have abandoned their farms to call for open elections in the city.

Though many Red Shirts enthusiastically profess their love for the king, his portraits have been appropriated by pro-government counterprotesters — the Yellow Shirts, who angered the world in 2008 when they blockaded Bangkok’s two airports and stranded 300,000 passengers worldwide for eight days.

The Yellow Shirts proclaim themselves as “royalists” and favor a government made up of only some elected politicians and packed with appointees.

The Yellow Shirts were allies of generals who staged the coup, and both groups said they had to obliterate Mr. Thaksin’s elected government to protect the king from a murky conspiracy.

Critics said the military simply wanted to cash in on lucrative weapons contracts, secretive budgets and other income, and launched the coup when Mr. Thaksin began removing some top generals.

During the past few years, the military (along with anti-Red Shirt politicians and Thailand’s media) have convinced many Thais that the Red Shirts and Mr. Thaksin oppose the monarchy — a charge they repeatedly deny.

In Thailand, it is a virtual kiss of death for any person to be labeled — true or false — an opponent of the king.

Born in Massachusetts, King Bhumibol, as a constitutional monarch, is officially “above politics,” but he has spoken out during past clashes when Thailand’s protesters, politicians and military battled in the streets.

In May 1992, when a military junta shot dead dozens of pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok, the king met with army leader Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon and protest leader Chamlong Srimuang.

The two admonished men followed royal protocol, kowtowing in a “kraab” position at the monarch’s feet.

Their appearance, broadcast on TV nationwide, cheered most Thais, brought peace and resulted in the resignation of Gen. Suchinda.

“In 1992, during the May events, I think His Majesty’s role was critical, crucial, vital,” Mr. Abhisit said at a news conference three months ago. “And his role was within the constitution, nothing above the constitution, but it was possible only because of His Majesty’s leadership and the reverence that Thai people have for His Majesty.

“Now what I’m saying is that it would be better if we could all resolve these issues without having to rely on His Majesty’s interventions, even though they are always within the framework of the constitution,” the prime minister said.

Today, many Thais say they hope the monarch can persuade both sides to end their confrontation, but the polarization is much different compared with 1992.

Gen. Suchinda and Mr. Chamlong were strong monarchists, and indeed Mr. Chamlong now leads the Yellow Shirts against the Red Shirts.

By contrast, Mr. Thaksin appealed to the king to commute his two-year prison sentence for financial crimes, but that has been met with royal silence.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide