Bhumibol Adulyadej Explained

Bhumibol Adulyadej
Rama IX of Thailand
King of Thailand
Reign:9 June 1946 – present
Coronation:6 May 1950
Predecessor:Ananda Mahidol
Successor:Maha Vajiralongkorn
Spouse:Sirikit Kitiyakara
Issue:Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya
HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn
HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn
HRH Princess Chulabhorn Walailuk
Royal House:House of Mahidol
Chakri Dynasty
Father:Mahidol Adulyadej, Prince of Songkla
Styles:His Majesty The King :
(June 9 1946 - present)
His Royal Highness
Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand :
(July 10 1935 - June 9 1946)
His Highness
Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej of Siam :
(December 5 1927 - July 10 1935)
Date Of Birth:December 5, 1927
Place Of Birth:Cambridge, Massachusetts,
United States

Bhumibol Adulyadej (Thai: ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช; ; Royal Institute: Phumiphon Adunyadet; ; see full title below) (born 5 December 1927), is the current King and Head of the State of Thailand. Publicly acclaimed "the Great" (Thai: มหาราช, Maharaja), he is also known as Rama IX. Having reigned since 9 June 1946, he is the world's longest-serving current head of state and the longest-serving monarch in Thai history.[1]

Although King Bhumibol is a constitutional monarch, he has made several decisive interventions in Thai politics when there was bloodshed or when Thailand was in turmoil. He was credited with facilitating Thailand's transition to democracy in the 1990s, although in earlier periods of his reign he supported some military regimes, including Sarit Dhanarajata and more recently, the Council for Democratic Reform. He has also used his considerable influence to stop coups, including recent attempts in 1981 and 1985.

Reported to be one of the richest monarchs in the world, with a personal net worth of $35 billion,[2] King Bhumibol has used part of his great wealth to fund over 3,000 royal development projects, particularly in rural areas of the country. He is immensely popular in Thailand, and is revered as a semi-divine figure by the Thais. [3] [4] [5] Although the King is held in great respect by many Thais, he is also protected by lèse majesté laws which allow critics to be jailed for 3 to 15 years. Politician Veera Musikapong was jailed and banned from politics for lèse majesté, despite the palace's opinion that the remarks were harmless. Notably, social activists like Sulak Sivaraksa were charged with the crime in the 1980s and 1990s because they allegedly criticized the king,[6] although the King in his 2005 birthday speech said he would not take lèse majesté charges seriously. Several high-profile cases were dropped. In September 2006, the leaders of a military coup accused prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of lèse majesté; the Thai military is thought to be highly loyal to the king.[7]

Titles and styles

Monarchical styles of
Bhumibol Adulyadej,
Rama IX of Thailand
Reference styleHis Majesty
Spoken styleYour Majesty
Alternative styleSir

King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Thai full title is "Phrabat Somdet Phra Paramintharamaha Bhumibol Adulyadej Mahitalathibet Ramathibodi Chakkrinaruebodin Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatthabophit" (Thai: พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรมินทรมหาภูมิพลอดุลยเดช มหิตลาธิเบศรรามาธิบดี จักรีนฤบดินทร สยามินทราธิราช บรมนาถบพิตร;), which is referred to in the chief legal documents; and in general documents, the title is shorthened to "Phrabat Somdet Phra Paramintharamaha Bhumibol Adulyadej Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatthabophit" or just "Phrabat Somdet Phra Paramintharamaha Bhumibol Adulyadej."

The literal translation of the title are as follows:[8]

Early life

Bhumibol was born at the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States on December 5, 1927 . He was the younger son of HRH Prince Mahidol Adulyadej and Mom Sangwal (later Somdej Phra Sri Nakarindhara Boromaratchachonnani). At the time of his birth, he was known in Thailand as Phra Worawongse Ther Phra Ong Chao Bhumibol Adulyadej (พระวรวงศ์เธอ พระองค์เจ้าภูมิพลอดุลยเดช), reflecting the fact that his mother was a commoner. Had he been born a few years earlier, before his uncle King Prajadhipok passed a law allowing children of a prince and a commoner to be called Phra Ong Chao (a prince of a lesser status than Chao Fa), he would have been called Mom Chao (the most junior class of the Thai princes), as were his older brother and sister.[9] His name, Bhumibol Adulyadej, means "Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power".[10]

Bhumibol came to Thailand in 1928, after Prince Mahidol obtained a certificate in the Public Health programme at Harvard University. He briefly attended Mater Dei school in Bangkok but in 1933 his mother took the family to Switzerland, where he continued his education at the École Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande in Lausanne. In 1935 his elder brother, Phra Ong Chao Ananda Mahidol, became King of Thailand, and elevated Bhumibol and his sister to Chao Fa status, the most senior class of the Thai princes and princesses. The family came to Thailand briefly in 1938 for Ananda Mahidol's coronation, but then returned to Switzerland. He received the baccalauréat des lettres (high-school diploma with major in French literature, Latin, and Greek) from the Gymnase Classique Cantonal of Lausanne, and by 1945 had begun studying science at the University of Lausanne, when World War II ended and the family returned to Thailand.[11]

Succession and marriage

Bhumibol ascended to the throne following the death of his brother, King Ananda Mahidol, on 9 June 1946. Ananda Mahidol's death resulted from a gunshot to the head while in his bedroom in the Baromphiman Hall in the Grand Palace, under circumstances that to this day remain a mystery.[12] Bhumibol then returned to Switzerland in order to complete his education, and his uncle, Rangsit, Prince of Chainat, was appointed Prince Regent. Bhumibol switched over his field of study to law and political science in order to prepare himself more effectively for his new position as ruler.

While finishing his degree in Switzerland, Bhumibol visited Paris frequently. It was in Paris that he first met a first cousin once removed, Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara, daughter of the Thai ambassador to France.[13] He was 21 and she was 15. Bhumibol became a regular visitor to the ambassador's residence.

On 4 October 1948, while Bhumibol was driving a Fiat Topolino on the Geneva-Lausanne road, he collided into the rear of a braking truck 10 km outside of Lausanne. He hurt his back and incurred cuts on his face that cost him sight in his right eye.[14] [15] [16] He subsequently wore an ocular prosthetic. While he was hospitalised in Lausanne, Sirikit visited him frequently. She met his mother, who asked her to continue her studies nearby so that Bhumibol could get to know her better. Bhumibol selected for her a boarding school in Lausanne, Riante Rive. A quiet engagement in Lausanne followed on 19 July 1949, and the couple were married on 28 April 1950, just a week before his coronation.

Bhumibol and his wife Queen Sirikit have four children:

One of Bhumibol's grandchildren, Bhumi Jensen, was killed in the Tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. He was the son of Princess Ubol Ratana.[17]

Coronation and titles

Bhumibol was crowned King of Thailand on 5 May 1950 at the Royal Palace in Bangkok where he pledged that he would "reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people" ("เราจะครองแผ่นดินโดยธรรม เพื่อประโยชน์สุขแห่งมหาชนชาวสยาม").[18] Notable elements associated with the coronation included the Bahadrabith Throne beneath the Great White Umbrella of State; and he was presented with the royal regalia and utensils.[19]

Among the symbols of regal authority, the quintet of Thai Royal Regalia (Bencharajakakuthaphan) are primary,[20] including:

The Thai Royal Utensils (Phra Khattiya Rajuprapoke) are also for the personal use of the monarch,[20] comprising:

These unique objects are always placed on either side of the king's throne or his seat during Royal ceremonies.[20]

In 1950 on Coronation Day, Bhumibol's consort was made Queen (Somdej Phra Boromarajini). The date of his coronation is celebrated each 5 May in Thailand as Coronation Day, a public holiday. On 9 June 2006, Bhumibol celebrated his 60th anniversary as the King of Thailand, becoming the longest reigning monarch in Thai history.[1]

Following the death of his grandmother Queen Savang Vadhana (สว่างวัฒนา, Sawang Watthana Phra Phanvasa Aiyeekajao), Bhumibol entered a 15-day monkhood (22 October 1956 5 November 1956) at Wat Bowonniwet, as is customary at the death of elder relatives.[21] During this time, Sirikit was appointed his regent. She was later appointed Queen Regent (Somdej Phra Boromarajininat) in recognition of this.

Although Bhumibol is sometimes referred to as King Rama IX in English, the name "Rama" is never used in Thai. The name is used to approximate Ratchakal ti Kao (รัชกาลที่ 9, literally "the Ninth Reign"). More commonly, Thais refer to him as Nai Luang or Phra Chao Yu Hua (ในหลวง or พระเจ้าอยู่หัว: both mean "the King" or "Lord Upon our Heads"). He is also called Chao Chiwit ("Lord of Life").[22] Formally, he would be referred to as Phrabat Somdej Phra Chao Yu Hua (พระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัว) or, in legal documents, Phrabat Somdej Phra Paraminthara Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej (พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรมินทรมหาภูมิพลอดุลยเดช), and in English as His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He signs his name as ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช ป.ร. (Bhumibol Adulyadej Por Ror; this is the Thai equivalent of Bhumibol Adulyadej R[ex]).

Role in Thai politics

Plaek Pibulsonggram era

In the early years of his reign, during the government of military dictator Plaek Pibulsonggram, Bhumibol had no real power and was little more than a ceremonial figure under the military-dominated government. In August 1957, 6 months after parliamentary elections, General Sarit Dhanarajata accused the government of Field Marshal Pibulsonggram of lèse majesté due to its conduct of the 2,500th anniversary celebration of Buddhism.[23] [24] On 16 September 1957, Pibulsonggram went to Bhumibol to seek support for his government.[25] Bhumibol told the Field Marshal to resign to avoid a coup; Pibulsonggram refused. That evening, Sarit Dhanarajata seized power, and two hours later Bhumibol imposed the martial law throughout the Kingdom.[26] Bhumibol issued a Royal Command appointing Sarit as "Military Defender of the Capital" without anyone countersigning this Royal Command. The said Royal Command contained the following matters:[27]

Sarit Dhanarajata era

During Sarit's dictatorship, the monarchy was revitalised. Bhumibol attended public ceremonies, toured the provinces and patronised development projects. Under Sarit, the practice of crawling in front of royalty during audiences, banned by King Chulalongkorn, was revived in certain situations and the royal-sponsored Thammayut Nikaya order was revitalised. For the first time since the absolute monarchy was overthrown, a king was conveyed up the Chao Phraya River in a Royal Barge Procession to offer robes at temples.[28] [29]

Other disused ceremonies from the classical period of the Chakri dynasty, such as the royally-patronised ploughing ceremony (Thai: พิธีพืชมงคล), were also revived.[30] Upon Sarit's death in 8 December 1963, an unprecedented 21 days of mourning was declared in the palace. A royal five-tier umbrella shaded his body while it lay in state. Long-time royal adviser Phraya Srivisarn Vacha later noted that no Prime Minister ever had such an intimate relation with Bhumibol as Sarit.[31]

Contemporary thinkers differ in their views about the relationship between Bhumibol and Sarit. Paul Handley, writer of The King Never Smiles views Sarit as Bhumibol's tool, whereas political scientist Thak Chaloemtiarana asserts that Sarit used Bhumibol in order to build his own credibility.[32] [33]

Thanom Kittikachorn era

Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn was appointed premier a day after Sarit's death in 1963. He continued most of Sarit's policies for a decade. During the 1970s, Bhumibol was a key figure in the Village Scouts and Red Gaur paramilitary organisations. In October 1973 after massive protests and the deaths of a large number of pro-democracy demonstrators, Bhumibol opened the gates of the Chitralada Palace to fleeing protesters, and held an audience with student leaders. Bhumibol subsequently appointed the Thammasat University Rector Sanya Dharmasakti as the new Prime Minister, replacing Thanom. Thanom subsequently moved to the United States and Singapore. A succession of civilian governments followed, but the return of Field Marshal Thanom and his ordination as a novice monk at Wat Bowonniwet in 1976 led to renewed conflict. Protests against the ex-dictator escalated and came to a head when two newspapers (one English language and one Thai) published doctored photographs depicting Thammasat students hanging someone with a close likeness to the Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn in effigy.[34] With the public convinced and being told so by pro-government agencies that lèse majesté had been committed, royalist military and paramilitary forces were then urged to attack the University, leading to a bloody massacre on 6 October 1976. The official death toll was forty six, but it is feared the actual figure is in the hundreds. Some of the hatred was sown by a royalist far-right radio program "Armored Car" hosted by Samak Sundaravej, who would in 2008 be named as Prime Minister by a Thaksin Shinawatra-nominee government. Despite the high number of deaths, Samak has erroneously stated that "only one unlucky guy" was killed, and has denied complicity in the violence. No proper government report was ever issued.

Prem Tinsulanond era

The ensuing chaos was used as a pretext for a military coup that same evening. The junta submitted three names to the king to choose from to become the next Premier: Deputy President of the king's Privy Council Prakob Hutasingh, right-wing Bangkok Governor Thamnoon Thien-ngern, and conservative Supreme Court judge Thanin Kraivixien.[35] Bhumibol chose Thanin as the most suitable. However, Thanin proved to be very right-wing himself, causing student protesters to flee to join the Communists in the jungle. Thanin was himself overthrown in a military coup in October 1977 led by General Kriangsak Chomanan. Kriangsak was succeeded in 1980 by the popular Army Commander-in-Chief, General Prem Tinsulanond, later the Privy Council President.

Bhumibol's refusal to endorse military coups in 1981 (the April Fool's Day coup) and 1985 (the Share Rebellion) ultimately led to the victory of forces loyal to the government, despite some violence - including in 1981, the seizure of Bangkok by rebel forces. The coups led many to believe that Bhumibol had misjudged Thai society and that his credibility as an impartial mediator between various political and military factions had been compromised.[36] [37] [38]

Crisis of 1992

See main article: Black May (1992). In 1992, Bhumibol played a key role in Thailand's transition to a democratic system. A coup on 23 February 1991 returned Thailand back under military dictatorship. After a general election in 1992, the majority parties invited General Suchinda Kraprayoon, a leader of the coup group, to be the Prime Minister. This caused much dissent, which escalated into demonstrations that led to a large number of deaths when the military was brought in to control the protesters. The situation became increasingly critical, as neither side would back down and the violence escalated.[39] Many university students and political activists in Bangkok were shot and killed when attacked by army and paramilitary forces loyal to the army and monarchy.

Bhumibol summoned Suchinda and the leader of the pro-democracy movement, retired Major General Chamlong Srimuang, to a televised audience. At the height of the crisis, the sight of both men appearing together on their knees (in accordance with royal protocol) made a strong impression on the nation, and led to Suchinda's resignation soon afterwards. According to the book "The King Never Smiles", the audio portion of what Bhumibol actually said has never been broadcast.It was one of the few public occasions in which Bhumibol directly intervened in a political conflict directly and publicly. A general election was held shortly afterward, leading to a civilian government.[40]

Crisis of 2005–2006 and the September 2006 coup

See main article: Thailand political crisis 2005-2006, Finland Plot and 2006 Thailand coup d'état.

Background to the coup

See also: Thailand political crisis 2005-2006. Weeks before the April 2006 legislative election, the Democrat Party-led opposition and the People's Alliance for Democracy petitioned Bhumibol to appoint a replacement prime minister and cabinet. Demands for royal intervention met with much criticism from the public. Bhumibol, in a speech on 26 April 2006, responded, "Asking for a Royally-appointed prime minister is undemocratic. It is, pardon me, a mess. It is irrational".[41]

After publicly claiming victory in the boycotted April parliamentary elections, Thaksin Shinawatra had a private audience with the king. A few hours later, Thaksin appeared on national television to announce that he would be taking a break from politics.

In May 2006, the Sondhi Limthongkul-owned Manager Daily newspaper published a series of articles describing the "Finland Plot", alleging that Thaksin and former members of the Communist Party of Thailand planned to overthrow the king and seize control of the nation. No evidence was ever produced to verify the existence of such a plot, and Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party vehemently denied the accusations and sued the accusers.

The 1997 People's Constitution introduced a new judicial structure. The traditional include the Criminal and Civil Courts as the first instance for court cases, followed by the Appeals Court, with cases ending up in the Supreme Court. The new structure included a Constitutional Court and an Administrative Court having their own Supreme Constitutional Court and Supreme Administrative Court. The Constitutional and Administrative "branch" of the Judiciary were independent of the Supreme Court.This system made easy for scrupulous politicians to have the same case filed in different courts. Some cases were under the jurisdiction of the Administrative and Constitutional and Civil court.

In a rare, televised speech to senior judges, Bhumibol requested that the judiciary take action to resolve the political crisis.[41] On 8 May 2006, the Constitutional Court invalidated the results of the April elections and ordered new elections scheduled for October 15, 2006.[42] The Criminal Court later jailed the Election Commissioners.[43] [44]

On 14 July 2006, Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda addressed graduating cadets of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, telling them that the Thai military must serve the King - not the Government.[45]

On July 20, Bhumibol signed a royal decree endorsing new House elections for October 15, 2006. In an unprecedented act, the King wrote a note on the royal decree calling for a clean and fair election. That very day, Bhumibol underwent spinal surgery.[46]

The coup

See also: 2006 Thailand coup. In the evening of 19 September, the Thai military overthrew the Thaksin government and seized control of Bangkok in a bloodless coup. The junta, led by the Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Commander of the Army, called itself the Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy, accused the deposed prime minister and his regime of many crimes, including lèse majesté, and pledged its loyalty to Bhumibol. Martial law was declared, the Constitution repealed and the October elections cancelled.[47] Hundreds of Bangkokians came out to flock around the coup makers' stationed forces. The military officers were given flowers or asked for photographing. Protests were banned and protesters were arrested. On 20 September, Bhumibol endorsed the coup, and ordered civil servants to take orders from Sonthi.

The King's role in the coup was the subject of much speculation among Thai analysts and the international media. The King had an audience with Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda at the same time as the First Special Forces were ordered mobilised.[48] Anti-coup protesters claimed that Prem was a key mastermind of the coup, although the military claimed otherwise and banned any discussion of the topic. In a BBC interview, Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University noted, "This coup was nothing short of Thaksin versus the King... He is widely seen as having implicitly endorsed the coup." In the same interview, social critic Sulak Sivaraksa claimed, "Without his involvement, the coup would have been impossible." Sulak added that the King is "very skillful. He never becomes obviously involved. If this coup goes wrong, Sonthi will get the blame, but whatever happens, the King will only get praise."[49] On Saturday 23 September 2006, the junta warned they would "urgently retaliate against foreign reporters whose coverage has been deemed insulting to the monarchy."[50] The President of Bhumibol's Privy Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda, supported the coup. The junta later appointed Privy Council member General Surayud Chulanont as Prime Minister.

After the coup

The junta appointed a Constitutional Tribunal to rule on the alleged poll fraud cases concerning the Thai Rak Thai and Democrat political parties. Guilty rulings would have dissolved both parties, Thailand's largest and oldest, respectively, and banned the parties' leadership from politics for five years. The weeks leading up to the verdicts saw rising political tensions. On 24 May 2007, about a week before the scheduled verdict, Bhumibol gave a rare speech to the Supreme Administrative Court (the President of which is also a member of the Constitutional Tribunal). "You have the responsibility to prevent the country from collapsing," he warned them in the speech, which was shown on all national television channels simultaneously during the evening. “The nation needs political parties.” The actual meaning of Bhumibol's advice was not clear, and interpretations varied. Some observers saw it as suggesting the judges should not make a compromise ruling. Others saw it as a warning against dissolving the two major parties. Bhumibol, who spoke standing but in a weak, rasping voice, was careful not to say where he stood on the merits of the case. "In my mind, I have a judgment but I cannot say," he said. "Either way the ruling goes, it will be bad for the country, there will be mistakes."[51] [52] [53] The Tribunal later acquitted the Democrat Party but dissolved the Thai Rak Thai party and banned over 100 of its executives from politics for five years.

The junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Assembly later tried to use the King in a propaganda campaign to increase public support for its widely criticised draft constitution. The CDA placed billboards saying, "Love the King. Care about the King. Vote in the referendum. throughout the Northeast of Thailand, where opposition to the junta was greatest.[54]

2008 crisis

See main article: article and 2008 Thai political crisis. The new constitution passed the referendum, and elections were held in December 2007. The People's Power Party, consisting of many former Thai Rak Thai MPs and supporters, won the majority and formed a government. The People's Alliance for Democracy reformed and started protests, eventually laying siege to Government House, Don Muang Airport, and Suvarnabhumi Airport. Although the PAD claimed they were defending the monarchy, Bhumibol remain silent. However, after a PAD supporter died in a clash with police, Queen Sirikit presided over her cremation. Princess Sirindhorn, when asked at a US press conference whether the PAD was acting on behalf of the monarchy, replied, "I don't think so. They do things for themselves."[55] Questioning and criticism over Bhumibol's role in the crisis increased, particularly from the international press.[56] [57] [58] [59] [60] [61] [62] “It is more and more difficult for them to hold the illusion that the monarchy is universally adored,” says a Thai academic.[63]

Royal powers

For a historical perspective on how Bhumibol's constitutional powers have changed over time, see the Constitutions of Thailand articleBhumibol retains enormous powers, partly because of his immense popularity and partly because his powers - although clearly defined in the Thai Constitution - are often subject to conflicting interpretations. This was highlighted by the controversy surrounding the appointment of a new Auditor-General. Jaruvan Maintaka, who had been appointed by The State Audit Commission, later went into conflict with the prime minister. Constitution Court ruled in July 2004 that the appointment of Jaruvan Maintaka to this post was technically unconstitutional. But Jaruvan refused to leave her position without an explicit order from King Bhumibol. When the Senate, approved of a replacement for Jaruvan, Bhumibol, in a very rare move, refused to approve the replacement.[64] The Senate declined to vote to override his veto.[65] Finally in February 2006 the Audit Commission reinstated Jaruvan when it became clear from a memo from the Office of the King's Principal Private Secretary that King Bhumibol supported her appointment.

Senator Kaewsan Atibhodi, a former member of the Constitution Drafting Committee, noted that under Article Seven of the 1997 Constitution said that: "whenever no provision under this Constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional practice in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of the State”. Kaewsan interpreted this as giving Bhumibol veto powers over the Senate's appointment of Wisut Montriwat to replace Jaruvan: "Whenever [the King] considers [something as being] not beneficial to the people and being unjust, His Majesty has a veto power".[66]

Bhumibol had vetoed legislation very rarely. In 1976, when the Parliament voted 149-19 to extend democratic elections down to district levels, Bhumibol refused to sign the law.[67] The Parliament refused to vote to overturn the King's veto. In 1954, Bhumibol vetoed parliamentary-approved land reform legislation twice before consenting to sign it.[68] The law limited the maximum land an individual could hold to 50 rai (20 acres), at a time when the Crown Property Bureau was the Kingdom's largest land-owner. The law was repealed after General Sarit overthrew the elected government in a coup.

Bhumibol's popularity was demonstrated following the 2003 Phnom Penh riots in Cambodia, when hundreds of Thai protesters, enraged by the burning of the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, gathered outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok. The situation was resolved peacefully when Police General Sant Sarutanonda told the crowd that he had received a call from royal secretary Arsa Sarasin conveying Bhumibol's request for calm. The crowd dispersed.[69]

Bhumibol has the constitutional prerogative to pardon criminals. There have been criteria for the selection of the convicted, including age and the remained serving time. But the 2006 pardoning of several convicted paedophiles, including an Australian rapist and child pornographer, caused controversy.[70] [71] [72]

Royal projects

Bhumibol has been involved in many social and economic development projects. The nature of his involvement has varied by political regime.[73]

The military regime of Plaek Pibulsonggram (1951–1957) suppressed the monarchy. However, during that period Bhumibol managed to initiate a few projects using his own personal funds. These projects included the Royal Film and Radio Broadcasting Projects.

In the military governments of Sarit Dhanarajata and his successors (1958–1980), Bhumibol was reportrayed as the "Development King" and the source of the economic and political goals of the regime. Royally-initiated projects were implemented under the financial and political support of the government, including projects in rural areas and communities under the influence of the Communist Party of Thailand. Bhumibol's visits to these projects were heavily promoted by the Sarit government and broadcast on the state-controlled media.

During the civilian governments of General Prem Tinsulanond (1981–1987), the relationship between the Thai state and the monarch was at its closest. Prem, later to become President of Bhumibol's Privy Council, officially allocated government budgets and manpower to support royal projects. Most activities in this period involved the development of large scale irrigation projects in rural areas.

During the modern period (post-1988), the structured development of the Royal Projects reached its apex. Bhumibol's Chaipattana Foundation was established, promoting the Localism in Thailand theory, an alternative to the export-oriented policies adopted by the period's elected governments.


In May 2006, UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, presented the United Nations' first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award to Bhumibol.[74]

In 1960, Bhumibol was a recipient of the Royal Victorian Chain, a personal award of Queen Elizabeth II, the British Monarch. Also on June 28, 1960, President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower presented Bhumibol with the Legion of Merit, Degree of Chief Commander[75] and Bhumibol presented President Eisenhower with the Most Illustrious Order of the Royal House of Chakri.

Bhumibol, who serves as head of The National Scout Organization of Thailand, was presented the Bronze Wolf award on 20 June 2006, the highest award of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, for his support and development of Scouting in Thailand by Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden and Honorary President of the World Scout Foundation. The presentation took place at Chitralada Palace in Thailand and was witnessed by Chairman of the World Scout Committee Herman Hui.

Bhumibol set a world record for receiving the greatest number of honorary university degrees (136) in 1997.[76] Most of his degrees came from Thai universities: for instance, Kasetsart University awarded him ten honorary doctoral degrees at once.

60th Anniversary celebrations

See main article: 60th anniversary of the accession of Bhumibol Adulyadej. Also called the Diamond Jubilee, the 60th Anniversary Celebrations of His Majesty the King's Accession to the Throne were a series of events marking Bhumibol's reign. Events included the royal barge procession on the Chao Phraya River, fireworks displays, art exhibitions, pardoning 25,000 prisoners,[77] concerts and dance performances.

Tied in with the anniversary, on 26 May 2006 United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented Bhumibol with the United Nations Development Programme's first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award. National holidays were on 9 June and June 12 -13, 2006. On June 9, the King and Queen appeared on the balcony of Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall before hundreds of thousands of people. The official royal barge procession on 12 June was attended by the King and Queen and royal visitors from 26 other countries. On 13 June, a state banquet for the royal visitors was held in the newly constructed Rama IX Throne Hall at the Grand Palace, the first official function for the hall. The Chiang Mai Royal Flora Expo was also held to honor the anniversary.

On 16 January 2007, the CDRM officially declared the end of the 60th anniversary celebrations and commenced year-long celebrations of Bhumibol's 80th birthday.[78]

Private life

Bhumibol is a painter, musician, photographer, author and translator. His book Phra Mahachanok is based on a traditional Jataka story of Buddhist scripture. The Story of Thong Daeng is the story of his dog Thong Daeng.[79]

In his youth, Prince Bhumibol was greatly interested in firearms. He kept a carbine, a Sten gun, and two automatic pistols in his bedroom, and he and his elder brother, King Ananda Mahidol, often used the gardens of the Baromphiman Palace for target practice.[80]


Bhumibol suffers from lumbar spine stenosis, a narrowing of the canal that contains the spinal cord and nerve roots, which results in back and leg pain and numbness in the legs. He received a microsurgical decompression in July 2006.[81] [82]

King Bhumibol was taken to Bangkok's Siriraj hospital on Saturday 13 October 2007, complaining he felt weak down his right side; doctors later found out through scans that he had a blood shortage to his brain.[83] He was discharged on 7 November 2007.[84]


Bhumibol is an accomplished jazz musician and composer, particularly the alto saxophone. He was the first Asian composer awarded honorary membership of the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Vienna at the age of 32.[85] He used to play jazz music on air on the Or Sor radio station. In his travels, he has played with such jazz legends as Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, Lionel Hampton, Maynard Ferguson, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band. His songs can often be heard at social gatherings and are performed in concerts. They can be listened to here.


Bhumibol is an accomplished sailor and sailboat designer.[86] He won a gold medal for sailing in the Fourth Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games in 1967, together with HRH Princess Ubol Ratana whom he tied for points.[87] This accomplishment is all the more remarkable given Bhumibol's lack of binocular depth perception. Bhumibol has also sailed the Gulf of Thailand from Hua Hin to Toey Harbour in Sattahip, covering 60nmi in a 14-hour journey on the "Vega 1," an OK Class dinghy he built.[80]

Like his father, a former naval engineer, Bhumibol was an avid boat designer and builder. He produced several small sail-boat designs in the International Enterprise, OK, and Moth Classes. His designs in the Moth class include the “Mod,” “Super Mod,” and “Micro Mod.”[88]


Bhumibol is the only Thai monarch and possibly the only monarch in the world to hold a patent.[89] [90] He obtained one in 1993 for a waste water aerator named "Chai Pattana" and several patents on rainmaking since 1955: the "sandwich" rainmaking patent in 1999 and lately the "supersandwich" patent in 2003.[91] [92] [93]


Estimates of the post-devaluation (circa 1997–1998) wealth of the royal household range from 10 billion to 20 billion USD.[94] In August 2008 the magazine Forbes came out with its 2008 version of The World's Richest Royals. King Bhumibol took first place on the list with an estimated wealth of $35 billion.[95] A few days later the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand issued a statement that the Forbes report erred, attributing wealth owned by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) solely to Bhumibol.[96] [97] The wealth and properties of Bhumibol and the royal family are managed by the Crown Property Bureau and the Privy Purse. The CPB was established by law but is managed independently of the Thai Government.[80] [98]

Through the CPB, Bhumibol and the royal family own massive amounts of land and equity in many companies. The CPB is the majority shareholder of Siam Cement (the largest Thai industrial conglomerate), Christiani & Nielsen (one of the largest Thai construction firms), Deves Insurance (which holds a monopoly on government property insurance and contract insurance), Siam Commercial Bank (one of the largest Thai banks), and Shin Corporation (a major Thai telecommunications firm, through the CPB's holdings in Siam Commercial Bank). The CPB also rents or leases about 36,000 properties to third parties, including the sites of the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok, the Suan Lum Night Bazaar, Siam Paragon and the Central World Tower. The CPB spearheaded a plan to turn Bangkok’s historical Rajadamnoen Avenue into a shopping street known as the “Champs-Élysées of Asia” and in 2007, shocked longtime residents of traditional marketplace districts by serving them with eviction notices.[99] Bhumibol's substantial income from the CPB, estimated to be at least five billion baht in 2004 alone, is exempt from taxes.[100] [99] The CPB receives many state privileges. Although the Ministry of Finance technically runs the CPB, it is alleged that decisions are made solely by Bhumibol. It is claimed that the CPB's annual report is for the eyes of Bhumibol alone.[99]

In addition, Bhumibol has numerous personal investments independent of the CPB. He is personally the majority shareholder of the Thai Insurance Company and Sammakorn, as well as many other companies.[101]

The CPB has a fleet of three aircraft for the use of the royal family, including a Boeing 737-800 and an Airbus A319. The newer Airbus had been purchased by the Thaksin Shinawatra government for his use, but after the 2006 coup, the junta offered it to the king. The other planes are used by members of the royal family.[102]

Lèse majesté

Scope of the law

Although Bhumibol is held in great respect by many Thais, he is also protected by lèse majesté laws which allow critics to be jailed for three to fifteen years.[103] The laws were toughened during the dictatorship of royalist Premier Tanin Kraivixien, such that criticism of any member of the royal family, the royal development projects, the royal institution, the Chakri Dynasty, or any previous Thai King was also banned.[104] Jail terms for Thai citizens committing lèse majesté are usually harsher than for foreigners. Social critic Sulak Sivaraksa has been charged several times with lèse majesté, but has always been acquitted. Politician Veera Musikapong was jailed and banned from politics for lèse majesté, despite the palace's opinion that the remarks were harmless. Frenchman Lech Tomacz Kisielwicz refused to switch off a reading light on a Thai Airways flight he shared with two Thai princesses and was jailed under lèse majesté for two weeks after his flight landed in Bangkok.[105] He was acquitted after apologizing to the King.

There is controversy over whether criticism of members of Bhumibol's Privy Council also qualifies as criticism of Bhumibol.[106] Police Special Branch Commander Lt-General Theeradech Rodpho-thong refused to file charges of lèse majesté against activists who launched a petition to oust Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, claiming that the law only applied to members of the royal family.[107] Two days later, he was demoted by Police Commander Seripisut Temivavej.[108]

There was also controversy following the death of Princess Galyani Vadhana. The website of Same Sky Books, publishers of Fah Diao Kan magazine, was shut down by the government after comments on its bulletin board questioned claims made by the Thai media that the entire country was in mourning over the death. Comments were also made criticizing official calls for the public to wear black as a sign of mourning.[109]

Bhumibol himself stated that he was not above criticism in his 2005 birthday speech. "Actually, I must also be criticised. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the king cannot be criticised, it means that the king is not human," he said. "If the King can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him because the King is not being treated as a human being. But the King can do wrong."[110] Despite this, few have dared to call for the repeal of the law. Any doing so have been accused of disloyalty and could also be charged with lèse majesté.[111] Political scientist Giles Ungpakorn noted that "the lèse majesté laws are not really designed to protect the institution of the monarchy. In the past the laws have been used to protect governments, to protect military coups. This whole [royal] image is created to bolster a conservative elite well beyond the walls of the palace."[112]

Political use of the lèse majesté law

Accusations of lèse majesté are often politically motivated. Premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his political opponent Sondhi Limthongkul both filed charges of lèse majesté against each other during the 2005–2006 political crisis. Thaksin's alleged lèse majesté was one of the stated reasons for the Thai military's 2006 coup.[113] [114] [115] [116]

In 2005, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) issued arrest warrants for two Swedish citizens, Abdulrosa Jehngoh and Chipley Putra Jehngoh, claiming that their website contained content insulting to Bhumibol.[117] [118] Chipley Putra Jehngoh also held Malaysian and Thai citizenship and at the time lived in the Middle East. Abdulrosa Jehngoh was granted Swedish citizenship and lives in Sweden. The website was hosted in Canada and was linked to separatist organisation in southern Thailand or more specifically the website '' which incited separatist movement.[119]

Sondhi, a vocal opposition of Prime Minister Thaksin, often accused Thaksin and his affiliates of lèse majesté. In April 2007, A Bangkok criminal court sentenced Sondhi for defamation for claiming on his Muang Thai Rai Sapda talk show that Thaksin's Deputy Transport Minister, Phumtham Vejjayachai, was linked to the anti-royal website.[120]

Academics have been investigated for lèse majesté for even questioning the role of the monarchy in Thai society. In 2007, Assistant Professor Boonsong Chaisingkananon of Silpakorn University was investigated for lèse majesté for asking students in an exam if the institution of the monarchy was necessary for Thai society and how it may be reformed to be consistent with the democratic system. The University cooperated with the police investigation, and even turned over students' answer sheets and the marks the professor gave them.[121]

Another case of an academic is that of Australian Harry Nicolaides who in 2005 published a book titled: 'Verisimilitude'. Even though the book apparently sold less than a dozen copies, a warrant for his arrest was issued. In the summer of 2008 Nicolaides was visiting the country and in August 2008 when he was about to leave he was arrested and incarcerated until his trial, which took place in January 2009. On January 19, Nicolaides was given a 3 year jail term, reduced from the initial 6 year jail term because of his guilty plea. Nicolaides was released after a royal pardon and arrived back in Australia on Saturday 21 February. Nicolaides was accused of seeking attention to further his career as an author, a charge he denied.[122]

Insults to Bhumibol's image

Acts deemed insulting to Bhumibol's image are also criminal offenses in Thailand. Charges may be filed by anybody, except for Bhumibol himself. In 2007, Oliver Jufer, a Swiss man, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for daubing black paint on portraits of Bhumibol while drunk.[123] The Thai press was requested not to publish any information about the case. "This is a delicate issue and we don't want the public to know much about it," noted chief prosecutor Manoon Moongpanchon.[124] The man originally pleaded innocent, but eventually pleaded guilty to five acts of lèse majesté. Foreign reporters were barred from the hearing.[125] Saprang Kalayanamitr publicly suspected that Jufer was hired to perform the vandalism and ordered a military investigation.[126] Jufer was pardoned by the king less than a month after his conviction.

Other insults to Bhumibol's image that have resulted in criminal complaints of lèse majesté and arrests include placing photographs of anybody above photographs of the King on websites and refusing to stand while the Royal Anthem is played at cinemas.[127] [128]

Internet-based insults

Another high-profile case was the banning of YouTube. On 04 April 2007, the Thai government blocked Thai access to YouTube as a result of a video clip which it deemed insulting to the king.[129] [130] Various leaders of the military junta claimed that the clip was an attempt to undermine the monarchy, attack Thailand as a country, and threatened national security.[131] On October 28, 2008, The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) announced plans to spend about 100 million to 500 million baht to build a gateway to block websites with contents defaming the royal institution.[132] "More than 4,800 webpages have been blocked since March last year, an ICT official told AFP, notionally because they contain content deemed insulting to Thailand's deeply-revered royal family."[133]


American journalist Paul Handley, who spent thirteen years in Thailand, wrote the biography The King Never Smiles. The Information and Communications Ministry banned the book and blocked the book's page on the Yale University Press website in January 2006. In a statement dated 19 January 2006, Thai National Police Chief General Kowit Wattana said the book has "contents which could affect national security and the good morality of the people."[134] The book provides a detailed discussion of Bhumibol's role in Thai political history and also analyzes the factors behind Bhumibol's popularity, though it is sometimes based on rumors which cannot be confirmed.

William Stevenson, who had access to the Royal Court and the Royal Family, wrote the biography The Revolutionary King in 2001.[135] An article in Time says the idea for the book was suggested by Bhumibol.[136]

Critics noted that the book displays intimate knowledge about personal aspects of Bhumibol. However, the book has been unofficially banned in Thailand and the Bureau of the Royal Household has warned the Thai media about even referring to it in print. (An official ban was not possible as it was written with the Royal blessing.) The book has been criticised for factual inaccuracies (geographical and historical), disrespecting Bhumibol (it refers to Bhumibol by his family nickname "Lek"), and proposing a controversial theory explaining the death of King Ananda. Stevenson said, "The King said from the beginning the book would be dangerous for him and for me."[136]

Succession to the throne

Bhumibol's only son, Prince Vajiralongkorn, was given the title "Somdej Phra Boroma Orasadhiraj Chao Fah Maha Vajiralongkorn Sayam Makutrajakuman" (Crown Prince of Siam) on 28 December 1972 and made heir apparent to the throne in accordance with the Palace Law on Succession of 1924.

On 5 December 1977, Princess Sirindhorn was given the title, "Siam Boromrajakumari" (Princess Royal of Siam). Her title is often translated by the English-language press as "Crown Princess", although her official English-language title is simply "Princess".[137]

Although the constitution was later amended to allow the Privy Council to appoint a princess as successor to the throne, this would only occur in the absence of an heir apparent. This amendment is retained in Section 23 of the 1997 "People's Constitution." This effectively signalled Princess Sirindhorn as second in line to the throne, but did not affect Prince Vajiralongkorn's status as heir apparent.

Recent constitutions of Thailand have made the amendment of the Palace Law of Succession the sole prerogative of the reigning King. According to Gothom Arya, former Election Commissioner, this allows the reigning King, if he so chooses, to appoint his son or any of his daughters to the Throne.[138]


See also


External links

Notes and References

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