Nation looks to another 50 years of virtuous reign
A FULL year of celebrations marking the Golden Jubilee ended yesterday, yet Thailand is already looking forward to another 50 years of the virtuous reign of His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
It is virtue that underlies King Bhumibol's reign, providing a foundation for the modern monarchy that embodies what it means to be Thai.
On Dec 4, during his nationally-broadcast address to the assembly of Cabinet ministers, privy councillors, top military and police officers and senior civil servants, the King spoke openly, if not symbolically from the experience of a righteous ruler of 50 years, about his vision for Thailand over the next 50 years.
He signalled that 50 years from now he would like to see Thailand as a ''peaceful" and ''happy" nation, with ''good" Thais outnumbering ''bad" Thais. In this respect, the virtuous reign of King Bhumibol could be looked upon as spanning a period of 100 years.
This idea also took its seed from suggestions by loyal subjects of the King who have lived through 50 years of his reign, celebrated the Golden Jubilee, and would like to celebrate another 50 years. Thais have long marked their lives by the reigns of their kings.
This Thai consciousness is exemplified in a classic novel, The Four Reigns, written by the late MR Kukrit Pramoj. The Four Reigns captured the spirit of the old and new Siam through the world view of a common woman whose life spanned the reigns of King Chulalongkorn, King Vajiravudh, King Prajadhipok, and King Ananda Mahidol, the fifth through the eighth reigns of the Chakri dynasty.
Thais who were born in 1946, the year of King Bhumibol's Accession to the Throne, or after that year have been one-reign subjects.
''They feel proud that they belong to one reign, and they have said they would like to belong to one reign. Yet they also aspire for longevity. They said they want to live 100 years. If they reach the age of 100, then the King will be at least 118 years old," the King said.
''Therefore, I should live at least 118 years, so that they will live 100 years to fulfil their wish. This makes me think that I should live another 50 years. I don't know who is going to be here 50 years from now, but there must be this assembly," the King said.
The task of the assembly is to examine how Thailand has fared over the past 50 years. King Bhumibol said that whether Thailand becomes better or worse depends on changes within the country and that all Thais are responsible for this change.
Fifty years ago Thailand had a population of 20 million. Since then the population has tripled to 60 million. In strict statistical terms, good Thais have tripled their number over the past 50 years, while bad Thais have also tripled their number correspondingly, the King said.
''The number of good people has tripled. This is a source of joy. But the bad people have also tripled their number. This is a matter of sadness. Well, we all have to contemplate this point seriously.
After contemplation then we can improve things over the next 50 years," the King said.
''If we are determined and careful in what we do from now on, I believe that in 50 years' time when we meet again, there will be more good people than bad people.
When there are more good people than bad people, then Thai society will be better and each individual will also be better."
If virtue is the highest goodness, then what does it mean in layman's terms? King Bhumibol admitted that defining virtue or trying to give the scope of its meaning is difficult and requires broad philosophical discussion.
In succinct terms, the King went on to interpret virtue or goodness along traditional Buddhist lines, which say that goodness is ''what makes us feel peaceful D and constitutes genuine happiness".
King Bhumibol's spiritual guidance for the nation is reminiscent of the Sukhothai-era reign of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great (1279-1317), who gave birth to the ideal of a paternalistic ruler alert to the needs of his people and aware that his duty was to guide them.
This was in contrast with the concept of divine kingship as practised by the Khmers, who previously dominated many parts of the region.
King Ramkhamhaeng is known for having had a bell hung at his palace gate. By simply striking the bell, any subject with a grievance could be confident that it would be taken into consideration by the king and a just decision reached.
ML Thawisan Ladawan, secretary to King Bhumibol, wrote: ''For nearly seven centuries, this concept of a benevolent, accessible monarch has remained a Thai ideal. It has not always been fully realised, particularly during the Ayutthya period when Khmer ideas of divine kingship came back and the ruler virtually lost contact with most of his subjects.
However, it never entirely disappeared from the national consciousness, and it was still there, ready to be resurrected, when the rulers of the Chakri dynasty ushered in a new era in 1782."