Thai king creates boot camp-style unity courses, officers to train in community service, loyalty to monarchy

Thousands of civil servants, police and teachers are being sent to a military camp in Thailand for intensive training in community service and loyalty to the monarchy, according to the Royal Palace and interviews with trainees and organisers.

The programme, established last year, highlights the way in which King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 67, is asserting his will on Thai government and society to a greater extent than any sovereign since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, some experts say.
Seven programme graduates who participated in the “Volunteer Spirit 904” training told Reuters they woke at 5 a.m. for light group exercise, then lined up to practise military-style salutes before classes on the history of Thai kings and training for community service.

At the end of the training programme, which lasts from 15 days to six weeks, they are declared “Karatchakan Suan Pra-ong”, or “Officials in His Majesty’s Service” and tasked with promoting the monarchy, and their efforts are tracked through messaging apps, the graduates said.

The 904 courses are coordinated by the permanent secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office, Theerapat Prayurasiddhi. The palace directed 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 courses in groups of 500 since March 2018, he said, describing the programme as “strictly voluntary”.

The goal of the 904 programme – named after the king’s security call sign – is to create a corps of influential people to “develop and defend the country and create people who are loyal to the monarchy,” the Royal Palace website said.

Reverence for the monarchy has long been part of traditional Thai culture, but King Vajiralongkorn, a career military officer, is formalising and organising public devotion in a way that hasn’t been seen since the end of absolute monarchy, said Joshua Kurlantzick of the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations. “It builds on the past, but it’s much, much clearer with this king and much more assertive,” Kurlantzick said.

Few details have been made public about the programme, which is linked to the palace-sponsored “Volunteer Spirit” here community service corps of nearly 6 million volunteers.

The training is run by officials linked to the palace and military officers, according to the seven graduates, a lecturer and an organiser who spoke to Reuters.