This Thursday, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand died in Bangkok. He was 88 years old and had one of the longest reigns in modern history. The King had ascended to the throne of the country when it was still Siam. It was right after World War II, during a difficult time for his country. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was on the throne of Thailand for seventy years. He was one of the most, if not the most important figure of the Thai nation. For Thai people, their king personified many of the positive traits of the Thai nation.
The King’s Death Brings Uncertainty Regarding Thailand’s Future
The royal palace issued a statement about the king’s death. But it did not include many details. The statement did say that the king died at Siriraj Hospital. King Bhumibol had spent the most part of his final years in hospital, in a special suite. As his health was deteriorating, the Thai people were still favorable to and supportive of their king. Shops in Thailand carried the portrait of the king and you could see billboards saying “Long Live the King”.
Even before the king’s death, there was anxiety about how the country would carry on without him. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was a unifying figure and a man of dialogue. Thailand is a polarized country and the king succeeded in bringing everyone together. With the demise of the king comes uncertainty. Even the future of the monarchy itself is brought into question.
Two years ago, a military junta successfully organized a coup in Thailand. The perception regarding the military junta was that it still derived its authority from Thailand’s king. So, the monarchy would still be necessary to guarantee political power in the country. But the heir apparent to the king is not held in such high esteem. The popularity of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn was behind that of his father.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Popularity among Thais
King Bhumibol Adulyadej was a popular king. He was not supposed to ascend to the throne of Thailand. But the violent and unexpected death of his brother in 1946 changed the course of his life. He became the king and dedicated himself to the role. He embraced the role and the figure of a national patriarch. More than any other public figure, the king upheld values inherent to Thai culture such as hierarchy, loyalty and deference.
King Bhumibol was a king for the people. He was quiet and wasn’t at all prone to extravagance. He had a sober, serious demeanour. Also, he valued Thai culture and preferred it to Western culture. He was often not happy with the way the West saw his country, Thailand.
In 2002 the king wrote a book that became a best-seller in Thailand. The book had the title “The Story of Tongdaeng” and was the story of a street dog that the king had actually adopted. The message behind the book was one of national pride and cohesion. It offered criticism of affluent Thai families who bought expensive foreign dog breeds. At the same time, it suggested that there were enough stray dogs ready to find a home.
Image source: Wikipedia