Regular New Mandala reader, Ralph Cramden, made some interesting comments on our recent post Update on the Royal Taboo:

Alongside the various responses to the Economist, ranging from the bizarre (in the Nation) to off-target (by Surakiat), which have mentioned the culturalist notion that Westerners just don’t understand, a deeper royalist objection has been made by Vasit Dejkunchorn.

In a recent article, he argues that foreigners, no matter how long they study Thailand, can never understand the country because they lack the essential element of “Thainess.” This quality comes from being born, raised and educated in Thailand. In Vasit’s scheme of things, “Thainess” appears to mean support for the monarchy. Those Thais who read foreigners’ work and believe them are actually , he asserts, mentally deranged and should seek immediate medical assessment.

Vasit was a policeman to the king and wrote the syrupy “In In His Majesty’s Footsteps” and has a long palace pedigree prior to working with the military-appointed government in 2007.

The palace appears to be fighting back against the sudden out-pouring of critical articles in the media targeting the monarchy. Vasit is one of their faithful tools. Vasit and his kind seem truly astounded at what has happened of late and one response is to lash out and explain to Thais, in Thai, that these foreigners just can’t possibly understand, are malicious and/or stupid (and yes, Vasit says, some are paid by Thaksin).

Vasit and his colleagues seem to lament the passing of a time when there were only a few journalists in Bangkok and they were easily controlled and convinced to write the hagiographical articles that routinely came out of Bangkok agencies who reported on the king. Many of those journalists wanted to stay in Thailand and were wary of lese majeste. That seems no longer the case.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is taking a different approach, suggesting that “all interested to learn more about the lifelong achievements of H.M. the King of Thailand [should] … access a privately-run website: which contains various video clips of royal works and activities in English and Thai.”

As Bangkok Pundit shows, the royal publicity machine has also been active in the international press. Here is Anthony Bailey in the Guardian on “Thailand’s quiet survivor“:

[W]hile the politicians have wrangled and demonstrators have taken to the streets, ordinary Thais, north and south, whatever their political affiliation, have looked to their monarch – the world’s longest serving – for guidance. So great is the affection, even devotion, for King Bhumibol that many had hoped he would intervene to restore some kind of order. The royal house knows that it would be damned if he did and damned if he didn’t by some foreign pundits but it knows too that the secret behind the Thai monarchy’s longevity is its discretion and detachment from the squalid realities of day-to-day politics.

Ever respectful of his constitutional position, the king ignored clamours from those who would purport to act in his name and remained aloof. Now that a political compromise has emerged and a new government has been formed, the king’s course of action – or deliberate inaction – has been vindicated.

And here is former US ambassador Darryl N. Johnson in the Los Angeles Times arguing that “Thailand’s king reigns — but he doesn’t rule“:

Bhumibol is the longest-serving monarch in today’s world and one of the longest ever, having reigned for more than 62 years. He has earned the admiration and love of his subjects in a way that Western observers find difficult to describe. He plays a unique role in Thai society as the personification of the Thai nation, as the head of state, as a kindly uncle who encourages the people in good times and bad, as a doer of good deeds and as a spiritual leader who performs sacred rituals.

What he does not do is to meddle in Thai politics. His powers under the many constitutions that have been promulgated since the overthrow of the absolute monarchy in 1932 are strictly limited. Every prime minister must formally seek his endorsement. Similarly, legislation must be signed by him before it takes effect. But such acts are politically neutral; he does not decide who should be prime minister or what policies the government should pursue. Does he favor some leaders over others? Probably. Does it make any difference in deciding political roles or policies? Rarely or never.