UPDATE: See below


Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej marked his 86th birthday on Thursday with a call for national unity and stability, but offered no further guidance on how his polarized nation might find its way out of its bitter political standoff.

Many people had hoped the visibly infirm king would use his annual birthday speech to step in — as he has in the past — to broker peace in the conflict that has led to street fighting by anti-government mobs seeking to occupy the prime minister’s office and other official buildings.


Onlookers wept as the king delivered his brief address with great effort in a weak voice, pausing for long periods of time.

“Our country has long experienced happiness because we have been united in performing our duties and working together for the good of the whole country,” said the king, garbed in a ceremonial golden robe and sitting on a throne.

“All Thais should consider this very much and focus on doing their duties … which are the security and stability of the country,” he said.

I think these people are quite worried, quite worried for the king, quite worried for the country,” said Charnvit Kasetsiri, a senior Thai historian.


Kevin Hewison, a Thai politics scholar at Australia’s Murdoch University, described the king’s remarks as “an essentially conservative message that may have some resonance at this time.”

I expect both sides to claim that the message needs to be heeded by the other side,” he said.

The king’s infirmity also uncomfortably raised the seldom-addressed inevitable succession of royal power. In July he ended a nearly four-year hospital stay to live at a palace in the seaside town of Hua Hin, where he delivered his speech.

His heir apparent, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, played a prominent role in Thursday’s ceremony.

Royalists — generally opposed to Thaksin and his political machine — worry that the prince may lack the moral stature to effectively take over his father’s job.

Both pro- and anti-Thaksin camps want to be in power when the transition occurs so they can influence it.


The king, who has intervened in previous political standoffs during his 67 years on the throne, did not directly address the protests in a short speech to his subjects, saying only that Thais should “help each other for the national interest.”

The king’s breathing appeared labored, and when it was his turn to speak, he read very slowly from a single piece of paper, pronouncing each word in a raspy voice.

“Our country has been peaceful for a long time because we are united in our country and perform duties for the sake of the national interest,” he said, pausing midsentence before continuing.

In a sign of his infirmity, the sentence took a full two minutes to read. The camera frequently cut away from the king during the pauses, showing stone-faced political and military leaders in the hall.

Also in attendance were Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and other important members of the royal family. But Queen Sirikit, who is also ailing, was absent.


In the past they have looked to his speech for guiding wisdom. But at 86 years old, and very frail, he struggled to get through a short address, which urged Thais to do their duty, and support each other. It sounded like a plea, to end the country’s deep political conflict. And the protesters, who are largely ultra-royalists, will say they have taken his words to heart. But once this celebration is over, they have promised to be back on the streets.


One analyst said the king appeared reluctant to get drawn into the mess.

“I believe the king understands the conundrum,” said Thak Chaloemtiarana, a Thai academic at Cornell University in the United States. “He must also worry about his own influence and how far it can go.”

The crown prince expressed his concern about the political unrest last week and urged people to settle differences peacefully. But that did not stop the violence.

“If the king did this and nothing happened, it could diminish his aura and legacy,” said Thak.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun at New Mandala:

King Bhumibol Adulyadej delivered the much-anticipated speech this morning to mark his 86th birthday anniversary at his seaside residence in Hua Hin. Evidently frail, the King managed to read the script throughout, though at time some parts were lost and inaudible. With his shaky voice, the King emphasised what seems to be a traditional quality of the Thai people: unity. He said (unofficial translation by author):

Thailand has been a peaceful nation for a long time; this is because of the existence of national solidarity and because members of society have performed their duty in a complementary manner with each other for the interest of the whole nation. Thais ought to recognise this (situation?) and must continue to perform at the best of their intention for the achievement of common interest; that is safety and security of the Thai nation.

There is nothing new in his speech. Those who expected the King to refer to the current political mess were disappointed. His birthday this year came at a time a new round of political violence has re-emerged.

BP: Agree with Kevin Hewison that both sides will say the other side should heed the message. Essentially, HM the King’s speech won’t end Suthep’s rally so, for now, we are back on….

UPDATE: Chris Baker has a comment at New Mandala on the speech:

I agree with Pavin’s assessment, but there’s one pedantic and interesting point. For the key term of “unity” in the opening sentence, he did not use the Sanskritic samakkhi, which has been the favored term since the Fifth Reign, or an nueng an dieo, “oneness,” probably invented to translate the English-language “unity,” and favored in the constitution and other similar documents. Rather he used เป็นบึกแผ่น, pen buek phaen. Since this was not the obvious word, I think it must have been a considered choice.

I believe pen buek phaen is an old Thai phrase as it typically expresses a concept by using simple concrete words. Buek means to clog together, to form a lump; and phaen is a sheet. So being united together like a lump or a sheet. It’s stronger than “unity,” which has been the translation used by the English-language press. Pavin was right to use “solidarity” instead. Better (though clumsier) would be “united to be solid.” The point is: it’s stronger than “unity.” And note that this opening sentence is clearly in the past tense: this is how we were.

So, yes, this is his usual message, but with a twist, I suspect a deliberate twist. But I guess the whistle people have blown their ear drums by now.

BP: Interesting…