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“Bike for Mom” a triumphant tour de force for palace-military alliance

The August 16 ‘Bike for Mom’ cycling event personally sponsored and led by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn set a world record – with 294,863 registered, of whom 146,266 cyclists nationwide (40,000 in Bangkok alone) successfully met the Guinness Book of World Records’ criteria, blowing Taiwan’s previous record of 72,919 out of the water. His Royal Highness was accompanied by his daughter, Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha, daughter of Her Royal Highness Princess Soamsawali.

The event was organized to promote cycling and to show His Royal Highness’ love for his mother, Her Royal Highness Queen Sirikit, who was 83 on August 12, and it also demonstrates the firm mutually supportive stance of the palace and the military government, which was well represented and led by General Prayut Chan-ocha himself. This alliance, together with respect for religions, is the first of the state-mandated ‘12 Core Values of Thai People’ and has been at the heart of the Thai nation state since its inception.

Bike for Mom – His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn as a baby with his mother, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit

The event was a lavish affair, with tens of thousands of royal souvenir badges and t-shirts being displayed. His Royal Highness looked relaxed and waved to the crowd throughout the procession, which started at the Royal Plaza and followed a 33-kilometer route. The Buddhist Singalakasutta specifically calls upon children to look after their parents, help them in their business and work, continue the family line, conduct oneself as is proper for an heir, etc., and the event was highly successful in portraying His Royal Highness as fulfilling this role, the first of such a public nature.

General Prayut emphasized the event was to promote unity behind the monarchy in the previous Friday’s regularly televised address: “The event will showcase the ingenuity, love and unity among the Thai people. So, please join us for the event… This activity will be an historic event for the country, as the Ministry of the Interior in cooperation with the Guinness Book of Records will establish a record for the Thai people who take part.” It was highly successful in this aim, with no protests whatsoever against the monarchy at the event either in Bangkok or in the provinces. With the benefit of hindsight, in view of the Erawan Shrine bomb, this was both courageous and highly fortuitous, as a bicycle procession does present relatively slow unarmoured targets.

This lack of protests raises the issue of whether there are any republicans or revolutionary Marxists left in Thailand, at least ones willing to risk going to prison for a 60-year sentence from a secret military tribunal. The answer is probably not. In fact, with full military support, the succession is, in fact, rock solid – although as the BBC puts it, “The harsh lese majeste law prevents any open discussion of the succession, but that has not stopped clandestine gossip in Thailand about ‘alternative scenarios’, usually involving the crown prince's popular sister Princess Sirindhorn.” The key word here is ‘gossip’ – there appears to be no ‘anti-Crown Prince’ movement on the ground, certainly not in the Northeast, as despite an active service career as a jet fighter pilot during which His Royal Highness actually led raids against communist positions, including in the region, the Crown Prince is now satisfactorily popular.

It is, of course, natural in the present circumstances that the military should take an interest in the actions of people who may not support the present succession pathway, assumed to be one of the main reasons for the last year’s coup. However, it is difficult to judge the depth of sentiment involved. Given the sensitivity of the issue, major Thai publications usually do not permit comments on stories involving royalty. For example, The Bangkok Post uses the following statement: “The discussion board on this article has been turned off, because commenting on the above issue may cause legal dispute. More information in our terms of use.”

One possible clue as regards actual sentiment comes from the Bangkok Post’s like/dislike feature on articles, from which a ratio can be obtained on stories. ‘Dislikes’ seem to suggest not unhappiness with the style of writing so much as disagreement with the content. The following stories are therefore relevant, with the ratio accurate at the time of writing:

1) Thousands apply for 'Bike for Mom' gifts. July 25, 2015. Like/Dislike ratio (based on 8/100): 7/93.

2) Crown Prince leads "Bike for Mom" cycling event. August 16, 2015. Like/Dislike (based on 26/72) ratio: 27:73.

3) Bike for Mom sets world record. August 17, 2015. Like/Dislike (based on 61/122) ratio: 33/67.

What is interesting is that the Like/Dislike ratio tended towards more ‘likes’ over time, suggesting that the event was a success in terms of promoting the popularity of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince. In other words, there is some empirical data to support as realistic General Prayut’s desire for the event to promote national unity. That in turn suggests that the palace/military alliance would be wise to promote more such events, security permitting. One possible criticism of the event was that it should have been for charity, perhaps with corporate sponsorship and donations to the Thai Red Cross, a favourite royal charity, but corporate sponsorship of royalty is a tricky issue to negotiate.

Finally, the author would like to wish the Thai monarchy well in providing the Thai people and foreigners with the moral fortitude to track down and bring to justice those who destroyed the lives of innocents and their families in the Erawan Shrine bomb.

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