It is well known that that King of Thailand considers himself to be the father of the people of Thailand, looking after his citizens with a paternalistic care, and telling them to be content with moderation and ‘sufficiency’ rather than bother themselves with advancement and leaving the place that they were born into. I have commented before on my critique of both the image of the Thai king as national father  as well as the sufficiency economy . That said, today I would like to comment on the core issue of the portrayal of King Bhomipol. If the Thai king is supposed to be a father to his country, what kind of father is King Bhomipol currently? Let us not drag up the ancient past, but rather what the crown is doing for the people (or not) at this time.
How does one do this? For one, it is very difficult to gain an understanding of what the Thai monarchy is really doing for the nation of Thailand. It is one thing to say that the Thai government receives hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidy from an elected government that they view with disrespect and a lack of due deference. We also know that the Crown Property Board (CPB for short) owns a large amount of property in the name and under the control of the monarchy, but its conduct and behavior are far more shadowy and opaque, given that criticism of its conduct is against the law in Thailand and that even questioning its conduct could be seen as an act of disloyalty in Thailand given the general insecurity of the monarchy and their supporters.
Nonetheless, Bloomberg offered a picture of the urban gentrification of the CPB in a way that reflects poorly on King Bhomipol as a loving father to his people . The short version of the story is this–hundreds of millions of dollars in annual profits from the crown’s own property holdings is just simply not “sufficient” for the King of Thailand and his establishment. Instead of being content with what they have, the CPB is engaging in urban gentrification by throwing out elderly poor in some of their Bangkok properties and converting those properties to much higher scale commercial qualities. Apparently King Bhomipol feels no paternalistic care for those fellow elderly who lack his good fortune in belonging to the royal family, and has decided that the need of the crown for more money outweighs the duty and obligation of a landlord to provide generously for tenants, as well as for a parent to be generous with his supposed children. And I’m no expert on Buddhism, but I’m pretty sure it is bad karma to be a wealthy scrooge seeking to become even more wealthy by screwing over elderly widows by devouring widow’s houses and for a pretense making long prayers. I know Christianity has some harsh things to say about that sort of practice.
This sort of behavior is immensely troubling on several counts. For one, it is an act of royal oppression on the common people of Thailand that is little known (because Thailand’s press is not free and fair), that is intensely hurtful (losing one’s home is traumatic), and that attacks the ground of legitimacy for the monarch (his supposed love for his people) as well as his official economic philosophy (that of sufficiency). What we have here is a clear double standard–a monarch can attempt to justify his rule by claiming to show love and concern for his people, while telling them to be content with what they have and not foment instability by seeking to better their position, but that same king becomes a hypocrite if he then prefers the cold comfort of profit and high-greed development to the satisfaction of service and devotion to his people and a pursuit of a sufficiency economy in his own property holdings. Our love is demonstrated through our works, and not through our empty rhetoric.
So, what is to be done about it? If the King of Thailand wished to be a genuine and caring parent for his people, he would care more about the well-being of his supposed children than about his own income. He would show generosity to the poor and to the widows instead of planning and plotting how to gain more money from property that is being “wasted” on such people who can only provide a mere pittance (if that) for their rent. The king, for example, receives hundreds of millions of dollars from his own property holdings a year along with hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies from the elected Thai government. If that is not enough money, perhaps the royal family of Thailand needs to practice some austerity. A leader does not have the credibility to demand sacrifice from his people unless he shows self-restraint in his own conduct and behavior. Those who greedily seach to optimize the money from their own holdings likewise have no credibility telling others to be content with their modest share. It’s time that the king of Thailand showed some love to his people and earned the trust and respect that he (and his supporters) demand so presumptuously from others. If we wants to be seen as a good parent by his own people and by foreigners, he can start acting like one.