Adulyadej, Bhumibol (Thailand)

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HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej (also known as Rama IX) enjoyed the longest reign of any Thai sovereign. He inherited a monarchy tarnished by the mysterious death of his predecessor and lacking a distinct role, having been forced to relinquish absolute power only 14 years previously. King Bhumibol re-established the monarchy as a central part of Thai society. He earned the respect of his people through his relative informality and by twice intervening in the political process to restore democracy.

Early Life

Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej was born on 5 Dec. 1927 at Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his father, Prince Mahidol, was at Harvard School of Public Health. The young prince was taken to Thailand for his primary schooling, but went to Switzerland for both secondary and university education. Bhumibol was accompanied by his elder brother, Ananda, who had succeeded to the throne in 1935 when he was a 10 year-old schoolboy. Ananda returned to Thailand in 1946 to take up his duties, but within weeks he was found shot dead in bed.

Career Peak

Bhumibol succeeded to the Thai throne on 9 July 1946 as result of his brother’s violent and unexplained death. In the early years of his reign, the young sovereign had to define a new role as a constitutional monarch.

In 1950 Bhumibol married Sirikit, the daughter of Prince Chandaburi Suranath. The young couple tried to give the monarchy a more contemporary appeal, undertaking long programmes of public appearances and tours. Like so many Thai men, the King became a Buddhist monk for a short time. But he attracted publicity for his keen interest in jazz. Bhumibol founded his own jazz band and played on the public radio. He was an accomplished saxophonist, the composer of more than 40 pieces and played with Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden and Stan Getz.

Bhumibol had won popularity by the time of his intervention in the political crisis of 1971–73. The imposition of military rule sparked student protests and later huge public demonstrations. Public dissent was ended only after a direct plea from the King, who was instrumental in forcing the leaders of the military government into exile. Bhumibol asked an academic to be interim premier to oversee the drafting of a democratic constitution.

The period of democracy was brief and Thailand, threatened by instability and the wars in neighbouring Indochina, suffered several coups. By 1988 a new modus vivendi had emerged: the military and parliament shared power with King Bhumibol acting as an intermediary between them. In 1992 popular unrest again brought the King into the political arena. King Bhumibol helped bring about the resignation of an unpopular army chief who was a leading member of the military junta. A new constitution restored civilian government.

The King’s Golden Jubilee in 1996 was celebrated with genuine public affection, and on his 60th birthday he was proclaimed ‘the Great’ by the Prime Minister. In March and April 2010 the King received criticism for failing to speak out against the violent protests that erupted in central Bangkok between the government and pro-Thaksin red-shirt protesters. His silence was seen by some as an indication of the waning of his political influence and his increasing frailty after a 5 month period of hospitalization in late 2009.

On 22 May 2014 Bhumibol gave his approval to the military junta led by Prayuth Chan-ocha, who had overthrown the interim government installed following the impeachment of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Bhumibol died aged 88 in Oct. 2016. His son, the crown prince Vajiralongkorn, requested that his proclamation as king be delayed in order to prepare for the role. The president of the privy council, Prem Tinsulanonda, subsequently took over as interim regent, with Prince Vajiralongkorn eventually accepting the throne on 1 Dec. 2016.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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