There are many countries with royal families. England’s Royal Family fills world headlines on a regular basis, with royal scandals, royal visits, royal weddings, and all things royal.
Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is perhaps not as well known, but in Thailand he commands a reverence and loyalty seldom seen. In recent years as the King has entered his 80s and his health has become frailer, yet the devotion to him seems to have grown.
He is the world’s longest reigning monarch and at 83 years of age, the eldest too. For over a year now he has resided largely at Siriraj Hospital, only occasionally leaving to attend important ceremonies and celebrations, such as his own birthday in December. His message of unity and hard work still resonates with many, even in difficult times. Losing him is something many fear will lead to a weakening of the Monarchy and further bitter political battles.
Just a Monarchy?
Thai politics may appear chaotic at times and hard for the outsider to understand. Even though the Monarchy has no legal authority, the King’s influence over the years has been more than symbolic. Through the years the Monarchy has often held the role of referee, occasionally stepping in to settle disputes. It has also defined its role within the Thai Government, increasing its importance via development programs in rural areas.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej: The Projects
The fact that King Bhumibol Adulydej is still so important to Thailand speaks volumes to his involvement with the Thai people over the years. In his younger days he was hands on in his approach to his role as King. He visited villages in remote areas and helped to set up projects that would help them. His hobbies of photography and music also helped him to connect with people.
The thousands of projects of the King and Queen address a wide variety of issues, including the crop substitution to stop the production of opium. Often the projects begin as experiments, but when they prove successful they are referred to Thai Government Agencies for further development. In his younger days, many of the projects were the result of visits to villages by the King, followed by consultations with experts to bring appropriate and sustainable ideas to the situation.
The military and police are also players, since for many decades that has been where political leadership came from. It has only been in more recent decades that non-military people have been elected Prime Minister in Thailand’s parliamentary government.
Thaksin Sinhrawat was one of the latest in a line of Thai businessmen to enter the political playing field. His rural poverty programs offered cheap medical care and debt relief. This helped win him two elections with the popularity created by his programs. However, there was a backlash from traditionalists loyal to the king.
You could say the pragmatic business approach reached too far and perhaps marginalized the importance of the Monarchy and traditional government programs. Thaksin was forced from office after being convicted of conflict of interest by the Thai Supreme Court. A coup removed Thaksin from office when he was out of the country, he now lives in exile, but still talks of returning one day, though he currently faces a two-year jail term if he does return.
Age and time have changed the Monarchy in Thailand. Politics and the world have changed greatly since King Bhumibol Adulyadej began over 60 years ago. A Monarchy that had relinquished power to a modern form of government in the 1930s, never relinquished its own importance and managed to find an effective and positive role. To do so in the future will require one of the Kings offspring to step up. In future articles we will examine the possibilities of the future for Thailand’s Monarchy.