Thai King works hard in his own way, says professor

Caption: In January, King Vajiralongkorn sent a message to the President of China concerning the outbreak of Covid-19.

In an opinion piece on Manager Online, a professor at the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) has written in defence of King Vajiralongkorn, saying that His Majesty prefers to keep a low profile as he works hard using Line and other modern technologies to give orders to his royal servants and follow up on them. The piece is one of many responses to negative sentiments towards monarchy as anti-government protests grow.   

“With regard to the issue that people make accusations and gossip that King Rama X rarely works, I know that it is not true. In fact, His Majesty works very hard and uses many methods specific to His Majesty,” wrote Arnond Sakworawich. The Assistant Professor at NIDA’s Graduate School of Applied Statistics said that he knows His Majesty’s working style from his observation of His Majesty’s role in the Tham Luang cave rescue in June and July 2018.

“I came to know this since the incident where the Wild Boars team got stuck in the Tham Luang Nam Nang Non cave. His Majesty had his officials stationed in front of the cave, and had them record videos and take pictures to be sent to him, and write reports to him all the time via Line. His Majesty also sought equipment, contacted divers and experts from around the world by himself, and gave advice and assistance closely and followed up every step” wrote Arnond.

Describing His Majesty as hard working, the assistant professor also criticized many Thais about their uses of technology. “King Rama X uses modern communication devices, the internet and smartphones to give orders and follow up work (while many of us Thais are sending flowers of seven colours, saying hi for seven days, and sharing fake news and messages around without checking and using it for entertainment more than work.)”

The Assistant Professor said that King Vajiralongkorn prefers to keep a low profile and people who work closely with His Majesty know this well. In the case of the Tham Luang cave rescue, “He went without sleep following all aspects of the situation himself. He followed in his own way, that is, His Majesty did not want anyone to know what he was working on. The King likes to be silent, and likes it to be a secret. He does not make announcements, attaching gold leaf to the back of the Buddha statue in the most silent way.

“Even people who worked closely for him such as the then Provincial Governor of Chiang Rai, Narongsak Osottanakorn, knew this very well and regards his royal kindness extremely highly,” wrote Arnond. “But everyone who works closely [with the King] also knows that he prefers working as silently as possible so that it won’t make the news.”

Recalling times when he was still the Crown Prince, Arnond remembered the King was shy. When the then Crown Prince went to the United States with the then Queen Sirikit, she asked him to give a speech to Thais in the United States. He “shook his head with diffidence and shyness. He said he was not good at giving speeches and spoke briefly before asking the Queen to continue.”

From listening to those working for Privy Council, he also learned that, regardless of which country he stays in, the King works at night and sleeps during the day, a tradition which can be traced back to at least the period of King Rama IV. As His Majesty works, he clearly assigns different work for each Privy Councillor. “Some are responsible for the three border provinces in the South, some for public health, some for agriculture, some for security, and some for education. He assigns work in a military way.” wrote Arnond. 

In 2014, Arnond Sakworawich was on stage of the PDRC mob which overthrew Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government and gave rise to 6 years of military regime. He also resigned from the directorship of the NIDA Poll organization in January 2018 after working there for only 3 weeks because a poll about the scandal of Gen Prawit’s luxury watches was put on hold by the university’s rector.

The opinion piece came out amid proliferating protests against Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government, many elements of which are seen by many as involving the monarchy. The protests also took place in July, which is the month of King Vajiralongkorn’s birthday. Many have asked the protesters not to involve the monarchy, including former red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, Army Chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong, the leader of the Kla Party, Korn Chatikavanij, and the rector of Rangsit University, Arthit Ourairat.

Growing challenge

Meanwhile, the Thai monarchy is facing a growing challenge. Royal World Thailand reported that “His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn of Thailand has been facing decreasing popularity with a growing number of negative views among the people, from normal critics to great malice displayed publicly which has never ever happened in Thai history.” The reason for this is because “at this moment, the people still see that the King assigns various officers to represent him in some duties, rather than doing them mostly by himself.”

Even though “during the Coronavirus crisis, the King is seen working well by organising the medical supplies for the people” and “Thai media...never publicises any negative news and any royal scandals,” still “there are growing negative attitudes towards the institution, as well as waves of haters and great malice.” Even his traditional supporters “acknowledge well the negative flows” and “it is not how they used to admire the monarchy in the past.”

To restore faith in monarchy, Royal World Thailand opined that there needs to be “change from inside,” meaning the King must solve it by himself. “As people would like to see more concrete things, more transparency in the institution, one thing should be strongly considered; adaptation to the unstoppable modern age, particularly to win the hearts of the new generation,” wrote Royal World Thailand.