Father of the nation

A flight attendant working for Cathay Pacific posted on her facebook page othat she refused to serve Paethongtan Shinawatra on a Bangkok-Hong Kong flight on Nov 25, because she is Thaksin’s daughter. She said she wanted to throw coffee in the face of the youngest daughter of her "enemy".

On Monday around 50 people showed up at the airline’s Bangkok office to demand her dismissal. It was later confirmed that she’s no longer with the airline. The flight attendant broke the regulations by revealing a passenger’s name publicly on her facebook page, a breach of passenger’s security and confidentiality.  

Also on Monday, a man in Samut Prakan province shot his neighbour in the head in a drunken rage. According to reports, they were having arguments over differences in politics. 

Today is December 5, His Majesty the King’s birthday. 

Ask an average Thai person what it is that defines who we are, more likely than not the answer would be that it is our collected love of His Majesty the King. 

His Majesty is accomplished in the arts. He works tirelessly to improve the lives of the people. He is the tie that binds the nation together. It is not just his accomplishments that makes Thais love the King. There is also a bit of that magic that all great men have that separates them from the rest. King Bhumibol has that magic. 

In May 1992, in Austin, Texas, I watched on CNN the King’s meeting with General Suchinda Kaprayun and Chamlong Srimuang. The prior event that led to the audience with the King was dubbed Bloody May. It saw a violent military crackdown on protestors: 52 officially confirmed deaths, many disappearances, hundreds of injuries and over 3,500 arrests, although stories persist that there were many more deaths. 

During the televised audience, the King demanded that the two men put an end to their confrontation and work together through parliamentary procedures. It was a historic moment, however I was too young and far removed from Thailand to understand the significance. 

Later that year, after a six-year absence from Thailand, I came home for my first visit. One day I went to the theatre to take in a movie. As is the tradition in Thailand, the showing of the King’s Anthem preceded the movie. It was something at the time I had forgotten. I was 12 years old when I left, after all. 

When the anthem started, everyone stood in reverence, and I dutifully conformed. The images on the screen were of the King among the people – his visits to rural areas, his works in constructing dams and other projects. There was this one image of His Majesty visiting a rural area, lifting his glasses to wipe either a bead of sweat or possibly a tear from his cheek. No one that I know could ever actually agree on which it was. 

Three-quarters of the way through the anthem, my eyes began to well-up, there were tears. There was an overwhelming feeling, a sense of connection that I, a young boy absent from his home country for some six years, found through the anthem and those images. This connected me as a Thai to the King. At once I was proud, proud to be a Thai and a subject of His Majesty.

In 2005, living and working in Thailand, I first read of His Majesty’s birthday speech in regards to the lese majeste law. He said, "Actually, I must also be criticised. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know." He also added, ‘’But the King can do wrong," in reference to those he was appealing to not to overlook his human nature. 

Today is His Majesty’s 85th birthday. During his reign there have been 15 military coups, 16 constitutions and 27 changes of prime ministers. There have been communist insurgencies and there have been violent military crackdowns on demonstrations. 

Thailand has gone through many ups and has fallen on many downs.  But through it all, there was always the King – the national identity, the cultural symbol and the collective consciousness that has held the country together, while our neighbours were torn apart by civil wars.  

The King, by His Majesty’s own account, is not perfect. Supporters may heap praises and critics may pass judgement. But none of us has ever had to bear the burden of an entire nation, through political upheavals, through the Cold War and communist threats and through power squabbles. Through it all, there was always His Majesty that the Thai people could look to – the Father of the nation.   

But today we also see one Thai wanting to throw coffee into the face of another Thai, simply because of who her father is; today we also see one Thai putting a bullet in the head of another Thai, simply because of political differences. 

For the past six years, Thailand has been torn apart, in a political divide that has counted many deaths and much destruction, and the future is all too uncertain. We see politicians and individuals exploiting the institution of the monarchy for their political gain. We see the people divided by colours and ruled by fear, hatred and anger.  

It would be a blatant lie to say that all Thais have the same feelings towards the King, as perhaps we once did. It would be cowardice not to admit so. The King, by His Majesty’s own account, is not perfect. But, again, none of us has ever had to bear the great burdens of an entire nation. Regardless of anyone’s personal feelings towards the King, His Majesty is the Father of the nation, the only one that we know. 

The future may be uncertain, but we can make certain of our words and actions. 

Shall we be ruled by such fear, hatred and anger that we would want to be so petty as to throw coffee in the face of a fellow Thai, simply because of who her father is? 

Shall we be ruled by such fear, hatred and anger to put a bullet in the head of even our own neighbour, who simply does not agree with our politics?

 Shall we be ruled by such fear, hatred and anger to let violence and exploitation that has governed our cultural mindset for the past six years continue to rule us in the years to come? 

During the first season of the reality TV show "Thailand's Got Talent" in 2011, one contestant performed a sand drawing. It was a hushed performance, no sound but the music in the background. Although I do not know the name of the song, it was a sentimental melody meant to invoke the emotions. His drawing hand was masterful, fingers deftly dragging through the sand. 

When it became apparent that he was drawing a sand picture of His Majesty the King, the audience gave an "ooh" and "ah". By the time he finished, there was the drawing of His Majesty, with the Thai flag flown, and a few people kneeling in front of him. The audience was crying and yes, tears were in my eyes, the same feeling, 20 years apart that is had when I stood for the King’s Anthem in a movie house. 

It is an emotional bond that cannot be qualified by logic or reason. It is what makes us humans, not robots. 

Today is Father’s Day. By His Majesty’s own account, the King is not perfect. In fact, no one is. Thailand is fast changing. The future is uncertain. But as each of us should want to lead a life that makes our fathers proud, should we not also build a future for this nation that would make our Father proud? 

Today, we might not all share the same sentiments towards His Majesty. We can continue to be divided politically. But no nation can move forward on fear, hatred and anger. Regardless of colours, tribes, gangs and factions, there is a common bond that unites us. We are all Thais, first and foremost. Instead of acting like perpetual children, we should grow up and take responsibilities for our country. 

Today is December 5. Long live the King. 

Related search: Thailand, Opinion, King, His Majesty, birthday, grand audience

About the author

Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator