It has been a week since the main celebrations of the 60th anniversary of His Majesty King Bhumibol’s coronation and the streets of Bangkok remain dominated by the yellow t-shirts of a grateful and loyal citizenry. Yellow, because the King was born on a Monday, which is traditionally marked by the colour. A sea of yellow is the common image of these celebrations. It is a good look.
The shirts, which are not cheap, are still being sold all over the city. Some of the most popular designs prominently display the common refrain “We love the King”, with a heart-shaped graphic in the middle. Others are classy polo-shirts, with “Long Live the King” embroidered on the sleeves.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the city are decked out in yellow, every day. The celebratory lights and posters are all still up. On TV, the majority of presenters–whether on day-time slapstick comedy programs or serious news shows–are wearing their own yellow shirts. Everybody is part of this story–it is a joyous, optimistic and unifying narrative of achievement, innovation and strength. It is hard not to feel awed.
On TV and in the newspapers, everybody is talking about the King’s leadership and the people’s gratitude. A big part of the story is his “New Theory”, and ideas about “self-sufficient economy” and “sustainability”. These are three inter-locking rhetorical and practical devices that have helped to cement the King as the country’s most prominent environmentalist and champion of moral livelihood.
The t-shirts, the rhetoric, the pride: just now I saw a television program promoting the King’s theories under the rubric of “self-sufficient Bangkok, self-sufficient livelihoods”. The stated goal of the program was to make Bangkok a place that is “liveable”. For most Thais, this is an admirable, and uncontroversial, goal.
The celebrations will, I imagine, be wrapped up over the next week or so and many of the banners, posters and lights will be put away. The apolitical practical and moral role of the King will remain. As will the united voice with which he is praised.
Then, the politics of “acting” Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will inevitably come back to the front-page. His polarising figure, and those of the men who seek to depose him, will again loom large.
Today’s unity will not remove their disagreements or unduly change the character of their fight. Nor will it dampen the intensity with which some hatreds or ambitions burn. We are not even half way through this momentous and testing year. The crowds, the passion, the T-shirts, the rhetoric. The politics of 2006, of Thaksin and his opponents, will not be fought in the spirit of harmony demonstrated in this most remarkable Royal anniversary.
I do wonder what colour t-shirts everybody will be wearing in three months time.