Thousands of Thai government workers, police and teachers are being sent to a military camp for training in community service and loyalty to Thailand's King.
The Reuters news agency talked to trainees, organizers and an official in the Prime Minister's office about the training program. They said it was established last year.
The program shows how King Maha Vajiralongkorn is influencing the country's government and society more than any Thai ruler since 1932, experts said. That was the year in which Thailand's absolute monarchyended.
Thai officials pay respect next to a picture of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, July 28, 2019. Picture taken July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Seven workers who completed the Volunteer Spirit 904 training told Reuters they woke up before sunrise to exercise. They also lined up to work on military salutesbefore classes on the history of Thai kings and training for community service.
The training lasts from 15 days to six weeks. Those completing the program are named "Officials in His Majesty's Service" and told to work to help the monarchy. Their efforts are followed through messaging apps, the graduatessaid.
An official at the Prime Minister's office, Theerapat Prayurasuddhi, coordinatesthe 904 classes. The Royal Palacedirected all questions to his office.
"The King has the royal policy to create unity among the people," Theerapat said. "Then everything will lead to the people's happiness and a secure nation."
About 3,000 people have completed the classes, he said, adding that the program was "voluntary."
The palace website says the program hopes to create a group of people to "develop and defend the country and create people who are loyal to the monarchy."
The King is creating public devotion in a way that Thais have not seen since the end of the absolute monarchy, said Joshua Kurlantzick. He is with the Council on Foreign Relations, based in the United States.
King Vajiralongkorn is a career military officer. The training is directed by officials linked to the palace and military officers, graduates, a teacher and an organizer told Reuters.
Not many details about the program have been made public. It is linked to another government-led program called "Volunteer Spirit," which has six million members.
Classes are held at the headquarters of a military regiment recently put under the king's command.
Graduates told Reuters one of the main ideas of the program is that the monarchy is the best solution to Thailand's problems.
Thailand is politically divided between military-royalist conservatives and supporters of populist political parties.
Over the past 15 years, Thailand has had violent political protests and two times, in 2006 and 2014, the military ousted the elected government. All political parties have expressed support for the monarchy.
Sinchai Chaojaroenrat has written books on Thai culture and religions. He says the 904 program is part of an effort to unite the monarchy with "every government agency."
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, but the King has a lot of power. Vajiralongkorn has shown his power in several ways, say people who closely watch his public actions.
The King personally controls the monarchy's wealth, estimated to be about $30 billion. Last month, he took command of two Bangkok-based army units.
Since they were started, the 904 courses have been expanded from palace officials, soldiers, police and government workers to university teachers and even students.
Words in This Story
absolute – adj.having no restrictions
monarchy – n.a nation or state governed by a single person or family
salute – v.to show respect in the military by raising one's hand to the forehead
app– n.short for application, a software program loaded on an electronic device
graduate– n.someone who has successfully completed a class or training program
coordinate– v.to work with or negotiate with others
royal– adj.belonging to or involving a ruler or ruling family
palace – n.the official home of an ruler or high official
devotion – n.love and support for an idea or individual