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Thailand's King Critical of Kingdom's State - 2001-12-05

The king of Thailand has publicly criticized the state of the kingdom and urged its leaders to be less arrogant and more tolerant. The remarks were made in a speech marking the monarch's 74th birthday Wednesday.

Thailand's King Bhumibol Abulyadej startled the gathering of 18,000 well-wishers when he spoke of catastrophe instead of development. He said everything in the kingdom is on a decline.

The monarch warned that "arrogance, disunity and double standards are hurting Thailand and he urged the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to be more tolerant of criticism."

Last year, the king also rebuked the government in his birthday speech, but analysts said this year's speech was one of the toughest ever. Although the Thai monarch has little political power, he is widely revered and his words are highly influential.

An expert on the Thai monarchy from the National University of Singapore, Professor Bruce Lockhart, told VOA the king's remarks appeared to be directed more at the tone and attitude of the administration rather than at specific policies. "He has, on different occasions, used opportunities like birthday speeches to express criticism when he doesn't like the direction that the government is taking, whether it's in policy terms, or more often I think in moral terms, in terms of how the leaders are behaving as leaders and how the government is acting as a government," Lockhart said.

The Thai king heads a 2,500 year-old monarchy and is a symbol of unity and continuity to the country's 62-million citizens.

Professor Lockhart says the king is also a moral arbiter and as a result, politicians cannot ignore such public remarks. "I think it's definitely a heads up for the leaders… When the king comes out and says even indirectly that you're not doing things quite right or that I don't quite like what I see, they really can't ignore that."

Prime Minister Thaksin, a wealthy telecommunications magnate, was elected earlier this year on a platform of reform and continues to receive high marks in public opinion polls.

However, his government on occasion has lashed out at the media for critical reporting. It has come under criticism for reportedly allowing some officials to become involved in lucrative business deals and for failing to reverse the economic decline that followed the Asian financial crisis in 1997.