On Wednesday (5 December), the revered Thai monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej celebrated his 80th birthday amid a cheering throng in Bangkok. In his birthday speech, he expounded on his “sufficiency economic theory” with two explicit if conflicting requests.
The King exhorted the Thai people to stand united as the kingdom heads for the polls on 23 December, saying, “Whether soldiers or civilians, (we) must be united, like our legs must be united –which means one goes forward and one pushes back before moving forward. Without unity, the country will face disaster.”
More astoundingly, the King also expressly supported military spending, although the people have been outraged by the huge budget increments for the soldiers ever since the junta came into power after the coup. The King declared that if there was money to be spent, then Thailand should use it. He said, “If you have money, you should spend it. Don't be so stingy. You can buy whatever you see fit –aircraft, vessels, tanks, if you have a lot of money. But if you don't have enough money, just hold back.”
It is uncertain what to make of the latter statement in the face of the coming elections. But a certain partiality for the military can be imputed. The King had earlier praised incumbent “old ginger” PM Surayud Chulanont for his good efforts in governance while the highly-popular ousted Thaksin Shinawatra had at times come under his direct criticism.
In any case, all Thais seem to be heeding the King’s wishes. The newspapers are all echoing the King’s wisdom on how to stand united in the face of troubles. Unsurprisingly, also, all the military heads are “gleeful” about this “go-ahead” to spend given that they do indeed have a lot of money. Defence Minister General Boonrawd Somtas promptly announced that his ministry has already “mapped out a 10-year plan to develop arms for the military and set a budget for procuring weapons” to be submitted to the newly-elected government for its consideration.
The navy has come up with its own proposal in line with the King's advice on arms procurement. Navy commander Sathiraphan Keyanont said he was mindful of the King’s observation that the Gulf ofThailand might be too shallow for submarines such that they could get stuck in the mud. Also, that if Thailand finally decided to get submarines, “good value-for-money” in line with the King’s economic philosophy would be practiced. Admiral Sathiraphan said that given the King’s suggestions, “it was likely the navy would opt for two submarines from China”. Additionally, the Navy is also taking up the King’s suggestions to use bigger patrol boats and to build its own vessels.
On another note, on the eve of the King’s birthday, a deadly bomb went off in Pattani, killing six people. Additionally, the People Power party and its leader Samak Sundaravej are starting to lead the electoral pack. The Bangkok Post poll on Sunday (2 December) “showed the PPP scoring 55 per cent of the votes, a four percentage point increase from the previous survey”. This widens the gap between it and its biggest rival, the Democrat Party. (6 December 2007)
PPP pulling away (Bangkok Post, 6 December 2007)
Navy to heed King's advice on submarines (Bangkok Post, 6 December 2007)
Thai King Calls for Unity Ahead of Vote (AP, 5 December 2007)
Thai military to adopt king's advice on arms procurement (TNA, 5 December 2007)
King again stresses unity (Bangkok Post, 5 December 2007)