It is not a kiss-and-make-up, but there is no denying that the people of Thailand — protesters as well as the government agencies — have tried their utmost to give their king a happy birthday. Days after an unpopular amnesty bill had led to violence on streets, police barricades were lifted and people given unhindered access to the public offices that had been made impregnable to defeat the Opposition siege. There were smiles and even exchange of flowers — all to create the right atmosphere for celebrating the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In his address to the nation, the king asked his people to “behave” and perform their duties for the sake of the nation. Evidently, he has refused to take sides in the conflict. He may even be said to have come close to chiding his people for the misbehaviour on the streets. However, no matter how important his words, they are unlikely to prevent a replay action. The protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, had hinted at that even before the country had skidded to a pause. The reason he is so confident that the monarch will take no grave exception is that Thailand’s present Opposition, the Yellow Shirts, continue to fight their battle against their foe — Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister — on the pretext of saving the monarchy. Mr Shinawatra and the government of his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, are suspected of either undermining the monarchy or intending to replace it with a republic. On their part, the Shinawatras have shown no less reverence for the monarch. Yet the fact that their rule has encouraged an assertive middle class to weaken the hold of the old oligarchy on power is seen, and projected, as a threat to the monarchy.
It is unfortunate that the monarchy is being used as a centrepiece for an uninhibited political contest. But there is no way the monarch himself can prevent that. That is a responsibility that lies with the people of Thailand. They have chosen the present government. If they have grievances against the Yingluck Shinawatra government, they can choose from the many ways democracy allows the people to send their message. Both the army and the judiciary in Thailand are doing their bit to uphold democracy by showing an admirable restraint. It should not be weakened by street fights or calls for an unconstitutional transfer of power to an unelected people’s council.