Congratulations to the People of Thailand


December 3, 2016

Congratulations to the People of Thailand

by AFP

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn becomes Rama X of Thailand’s Chakri Dynasty, but will not formally be crowned until after his father’s cremation, which is expected next year.

King-Rama

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn became the King of Thailand late Thursday, opening a new chapter for the powerful monarchy in a country still mourning the death of his father.

The 64-year-old Prince inherits one of the world’s richest monarchies as well as a politically febrile nation, 50 days after King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death.

After weeks of complex palace protocols the Prince was invited by the head of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to ascend the throne in an event broadcast on all Thai television channels.

“I agree to accept the wishes of the late King… for the benefit of the entire Thai people,” said Vajiralongkorn, wearing an official white tunic decorated with medals and a pink sash.

The sombre, ritual-heavy ceremony at his Bangkok palace was attended by the Chief of the NLA, junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha, and the powerful 96-year-old head of the privy council, Prem Tinsulanonda.

Red-jacketed courtiers looked on as a palace staff member, shuffling on his knees, presented the new King with a microphone through which he delivered his few words of acceptance.

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His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn then prostrated himself, hands pressed together in respect, to a small shrine topped by a picture of his father and mother —Her Majesty Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara.

He becomes Rama X of Thailand’s Chakri dynasty, but will not formally be crowned until after his father’s cremation, which is expected next year.

Bhumibol’s reign, which ended on October 13, spanned a tumultuous period of Thai history pockmarked by a communist insurgency, coups and street protests.

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It also saw breakneck development which has resulted in a huge wealth disparity between a Bangkok-centric elite and the rural poor.To many Thais, Bhumibol was the only consistent force in a politically combustible country, his image burnished by ritual and shielded by a harsh royal defamation law.

The United States offered its congratulations to the new King, saying it looked forward to strengthening ties with Thailand. “We offer our best wishes to his majesty and all of the Thai people,” the State Department said.

“His father, King Bhumibol, ruled the Kingdom of Thailand with vision and compassion for 70 years and was a great friend of the United States. The United States and Thailand enjoy a longstanding, strong, and multifaceted bilateral relationship, and we look forward to deepening that relationship and strengthening the bonds between our two countries and peoples going forward.”

Into the limelight

Monks chanted blessings at Buddhist temples to mark the new monarch’s ascension — an era-defining moment for most Thais who for seven decades knew only Bhumibol as their King.

His Majesty Vajiralongkorn does not yet enjoy the same level of popularity.He spends much of his time outside of the public eye, particularly in southern Germany where he owns property.

He has had three high-profile divorces, while a recent police corruption scandal linked to the family of his previous wife allowed the public a rare glimpse of palace affairs.

Thursday’s ascension ends a period of uncertainty since Bhumibol’s death prompted by the Prince’s request to delay his official proclamation so he could mourn with the Thai people.

Thailand’s constitutional monarchy has limited formal powers but it draws the loyalty of much of the kingdom’s business elite as well as a military that dominates politics through its regular coups.

Analysts say  His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn, untested until now, will have to manage competing military cliques.

In a brief televised address after the ceremony, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who as army chief led the 2014 coup, praised the new King “as the head of the Thai state and heart of the Thai people.”

The Thai monarchy is protected from criticism by one of the world’s strictest lese majeste laws, carrying up to 15 years in jail for every charge of defaming the King, Queen, heir or regent.

That law makes open discussion about the Royal Family’s role all but impossible inside the Kingdom and means all media based inside the country routinely self-censor. Convictions for so-called “112” offences — named after its criminal code — have skyrocketed since the Generals seized power in 2014.

Experts say most have targeted the junta’s political opponents, many of whom support the toppled civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

The emergence of Yingluck’s brother Thaksin in 2001, a vote-winning billionaire seen by many of the rural poor as their champion, prompted the recent round of political conflict. The army and royalist establishment have toppled two governments led by the siblings, accusing them of nepotism and corruption.

 

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Legacy


October 15, 2016

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Legacy

by Nicholas Farrelly

http://www.newmandala.org

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The 70-year reign of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej started and ended inauspiciously. It was a family tragedy that unexpectedly brought Bhumibol to the throne. He went on to become the world’s longest serving monarch but, in death, his formidable legacy is deeply tarnished by the ambitions of those who fought hardest to defend him.

In 1946, the untimely and mysterious death of his older brother, King Ananda Mahidol, catapulted the young Prince Bhumibol into a role for which he was unprepared. King Ananda died violently in Bangkok’s Grand Palace. He was found in bed with a pistol shot to the head. To this day, nobody knows who pulled the trigger. Forensic reports suggest that neither suicide nor an accident were likely. Whispered speculation about regicide has continued ever since.

Many like to believe that shadowy figures outside the palace were responsible. There is also the deeply disturbing possibility—unthinkable for most Thais—that Ananda’s death was an inside job. Some commentators have wondered if Bhumibol, who was the last person to see King Ananda alive, would ever cast any light on the mystery. He never did, and any knowledge he had of the tragic event is now probably gone forever.

Bhumibol was born in the United States and spent much of his early life attending school and university in Switzerland. Even after becoming king, he returned to Switzerland for another five years of education, jazz music, fast cars and European high-society. He returned full-time to Thailand in 1951, aged 23 and speaking imperfect Thai.

Few would have expected this highly westernised young man to become Thailand’s longest reigning king and a potent symbol of the Thai nation. In fact, early in his reign, there was diplomatic chatter that Bhumibol was easily controlled by scheming politicians within the government. In 1932 a revolution had bought about an end to the absolute monarchy and by the time Bhumibol became king Thai royalty had lost much of its former prestige and power. Some of the old palace hardliners would have preferred a more formidable figure on the throne.

It was an unremarkable beginning, but King Bhumibol gradually grew in stature as a role in modern Thai politics was constructed for him. The palace became a useful symbol around which Thailand’s ruling military strongmen could build the ideological infrastructure of national unity. In those years, royal endorsement and conservative credentials were far more important for Thai governments than electoral legitimacy.

Surrounded by loyal establishment figures, Bhumibol was manoeuvred into the public consciousness as a diligent and compassionate king and as the embodiment of Thai values. In those crucial years, the monarchy grew to become Thailand’s premier institution. It was not long before Thailand’s once tentative king was making globetrotting trips, meeting with international leaders and showing off his glamorous queen.

At home, national unity was a pressing concern. In the 1960s and 1970s, Thailand was besieged by the communist advances in Indochina. Within Thailand’s borders, communist insurgents mounted a persistent campaign against the government. Nullifying these opponents, and winning over the hearts and minds of the Thai people, became a top priority for both the government and the palace.

As Cold War anxieties climaxed, Bhumibol supported a strong American presence in Thailand. From its bases in the kingdom, US forces bombed Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In Thailand, Bhumibol sponsored the establishment of paramilitary organisations, and became the patron of the Border Patrol Police and other guardians of the realm. He also set up a series of rural development centres in the poorest and most remote areas of the country.

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He argued, quite rightly, that social and economic development would make Thailand’s rural poor less vulnerable to leftist indoctrination. Some of the most iconic images of Bhumibol’s reign come from his visits to rural villages, where he dispensed development resources and agronomic wisdom to his grateful peasant subjects.

Thailand’s status as a linchpin in the anti-communist fight, paved the way for an economic boom and the enmeshment of Bhumibol in global power politics. The defeat of local communist forces in the early 1980s was directly linked, in many Thai minds, with the king’s devotion to his kingdom. Following the spectacular economic growth and semi-democracy of the 1980s, the last three decades of Bhumibol’s life were accompanied by constant reference to his newly democratic public persona.

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His adoration by the Thai public was stoked by a constant diet of positive press coverage about him and his family. Bhumibol’s status grew as international organisations flocked to honour Asia’s modern monarch with a welter of awards and honorary degrees.

His greatest public relations triumph came in 1992, following a massacre of unarmed protesters by army units on the streets of Bangkok. In a nationally televised display of royal authority, Bhumibol called the protest leader and the Prime Minister to his palace. As they knelt before him, he commanded that they settle their differences peacefully. This is the king that many people in Thailand will want to remember: powerful, wise and rescuing the nation in a moment of crisis.

This image served the king well in the years that followed. In an emerging but still fractious democracy, Bhumibol was seen as the ideal national arbiter if things got out of control. His homespun “sufficiency economy” philosophy provided Thais with moral reassurance during the Asian economic crisis of 1997. The king was capitalising on the charisma that he had accumulated during the earlier decades of his reign.

But Bhumibol’s health began to falter and fade at the same time as new political challenges were emerging in his kingdom. Modernisation, consumerism, mass education and the Internet were starting to unravel the established political order. In these turbulent times, Bhumibol was very poorly served by his energetic backers.

In September 2006 the Thai military overthrew the elected government of billionaire businessman Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was an immensely popular political leader and his populist economic policies dwarfed the benevolence of the king. Thaksin had cashed in on Thailand’s lust for modernity and many felt that his unprecedented electoral power was a threat to Bhumibol’s traditional royal authority.

The king’s closest supporters were instrumental in engineering the move against Thaksin. The coup-makers were obliged to infuse their actions with royal mystique. When the tanks took to the streets of Bangkok, yellow ribbons were tied around their gun barrels. Yellow is King Bhumibol’s colour. After the putsch, one of the king’s Privy Councillors, and a military veteran of the fight against communism, was appointed as Prime Minister. The unelected government actively promoted Bhumibol’s “sufficiency economy” philosophy as an antidote to the brash commercialism of Thaksin.

What Bhumibol thought about the enthusiastic use of his royal brand by a military government that had destroyed Thailand’s constitution is not known. What is known is that he made no attempt to distance himself from it. For the first time, the Thai public had a clear view that the palace was a player in partisan politics and, what’s more, had contributed to the overthrow of a government that had been elected three times.

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There was worse to come for Thailand’s monarchy. In the post-coup election of December 2007, a new Thaksin-aligned government was elected, effectively undoing the work of the coup-makers. Powerful sections of the Bangkok elite could not accept this result. They mounted a series of increasingly belligerent street protests, swathed in royal yellow, to bring down another elected government.

Carrying portraits of the royal family everywhere they went, the “yellow-shirt” protestors occupied government house, blockaded the parliament and, in their ultimate act of national vandalism, closed down Bangkok’s international airport. Despite the damage to Thailand’s economy and international reputation the security forces refused to move against them. There was speculation that the protesters had friends in very high places.

Eventually the pro-Thaksin government fell, and a much more royal-friendly administration lead by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva took its place. Throughout the months of yellow-shirt chaos, neither the king nor his advisors did anything to call off those who were campaigning under the royal banner for the forcible overthrow of his majesty’s elected government.

That government eventually fell at an election, replaced by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawtra. Her opponents in royalist and militarist circles insisted on undermining her grasp on a democratic mandate. It was no great surprise when her prime ministership ended in May 2014 with yet another army coup.

The current government in Bangkok, headed by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, took charge specifically so that top military and palace figures could control the kingdom in the sensitive hours, days, weeks and months after Bhumibol’s passing. Under these conditions it is clear to analysts, both within Thailand and internationally, just how little Bhumibol’s reign contributed to democratic consolidation.

Despite these troubled times, King Bhumibol’s record of virtuous good works, combined with the formidable royal publicity machine, means that he is still held in great regard by a large proportion of the Thai population. His image hangs in houses throughout the kingdom – from elaborate mansions in Bangkok to bamboo huts in the far-flung hills of Thailand’s north. His death will generate deep sadness and a long period of mourning.

Those who publically depart from the acceptable script of royal virtue risk being charged under Thailand’s punitive criminal code. There is a real fear in Thailand about discussing royal matters. In his later years, Bhumibol expressed discomfort about the abuse of laws that protected him, but he never openly called for their reform or repeal.

The reverence for the late king is very real. But the active repression of free speech means that there is no room in Thai public life for any other sentiment.

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Perhaps there may be stirrings of new sentiments when the new king takes the throne. Bhumibol’s son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, is expected to be the new king, although his elevation is a delicate and contentious matter. Vajiralongkorn has a chequered private life and a reputation for hot headedness. He is a magnet for salacious rumour and colourful internet imagery. He is much less popular than his younger sister, the unmarried Princess Sirindhorn, who is popularly referred to as Princess Angel.

Much planning has gone into what happens next, but Bhumibol’s death may still loose forces that will energise a new round of political turmoil. No wonder the Thai stock market is jittery and investors are calling in their risk assessors.

King Bhumibol was the dominant political and cultural figure in Thailand for as long as most people can remember. He reigned over a newly-prosperous and internationally respected kingdom, and found a place in the hearts and minds of his subjects. But in late moments of reflection he may have regretted that his country became so ill prepared for mature leadership transitions and that his own charisma had been so regularly mobilised against the political wishes of the Thai people.

Dr Nicholas Farrelly is the co-founder of New Mandala.

The Musical Compositions of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand–A Tribute


Your Weekend Musical Guest–The Musical Compositions of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand


บทเพลงพระราชนิพนธ์ในพระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัวภูมิพลอดุลยเดชฯ

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Dr. Kamisiah Haider and Din Merican have chosen to play the musical compositions of the dearly departed, much respected and admired, and loved His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand.

For this weekend, we pay tribute to a multi-talented long serving  His Majesty King of Thailand for his many contributions to socio-economic development of the country he loved very much. By listening to His Majesty’s compositions, we  should not be surprised that His Majesty  The King is regarded as the Soul of Thailand. His Majesty’s musical compositions reflect his love and passion for the Thai People.

His Majesty is not just a wise and compassionate King but also a pioneer agriculturalist, humanist-environmentalist, scientist and talented musician. Let us and all mourners in Thailand listen to His Majesty’s wonderful compositions that will be remembered and appreciated through the ages by us in ASEAN and around the world.

Once again we wish to convey our heartfelt condolences to the people and the government of Thailand, in particular to our Thai friends, associates and readers of Din Merican’s blog. We join you in your moments of grief of His Majesty’s passing. At the same time, let us celebrate His Majesty’s life and legacy through his music.–Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican

 

The revered, saintly and loved His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand has died


October 13, 2016

Note: The late His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was the First Among Equals of Asia’s monarchs, who was loved and respected by his people. His passing today will be mourned by the Thais.

Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I wish to express our sincere condolences to the members of the bereaved Royal Family, the Government and the People of Thailand including our friends and associates on the passing of their revered and admired monarch.–Din Merican

The revered, saintly and loved His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand has died

Thai people wearing yellow shirts, the color of the king, hold pictures of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they pray during the celebrations of the monarch's 70th anniversary 

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who has died aged 88, was the world’s longest serving constitutional monarch and played a unique role at the centre of national life.

The only Buddhist monarch in the world, King Bhumibol (pronounced Poomipon) was unexpectedly elevated to the throne when just 18 years old on the mysterious death by shooting of his brother Ananda in 1946. At the time, the institution of monarchy in Thailand was at a low ebb. Absolute monarchy had been abolished following a military coup two decades previously, and for the better part of those years no king had been in residence and republican sentiments were strong.

The young Bhumibol had spent most of his life abroad and at the time of his accession was studying at Lausanne University. The new king, a shy, bespectacled, almost withdrawn young man, took the dynastic name Rama IX and became the ninth sovereign of the Chakri dynasty.

Despite these inauspicious beginnings, over the following decades King Bhumibol turned Thailand’s new constitutional monarchy into a resounding success. During years of political turmoil and rapid change which saw numerous coups or attempted coups and more than 20 prime ministers, he was seen as a consistent, selfless presence and symbol of national unity. For most of his reign he was credited with being a moderating influence on corrupt politicians, scheming bureaucrats and ambitious generals; it was only recently that some suspected him of interfering in the political process, to the extent of tacitly endorsing a coup in 2006.

In his first address to the Thai Parliament after his coronation in 1950, the King urged its members to do everything in their power to prevent the entry into Thailand of communism from neighbouring countries. Deeply conservative by nature and with a strong belief in stability and order, he was convinced that improving the lot of the peasants would be the best protection against the spread of communism, and thereafter he devoted himself to that end.

He developed an extraordinary rapport with ordinary Thais, and would spend most of every year traveling between a series of palaces around the country. From these he would lead 40-strong convoys of assorted Jeeps and Land-Rovers down dusty roads deep into the countryside meeting local people, visiting rural projects or entertaining local dignitaries.

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Foreign ambassadors to Bangkok would often be dragged from the capital’s cocktail party circuit to spend days bumping around the outback inspecting drainage schemes. Always the King radiated a curious touching innocence.

There seemed no end to the good works in which King Bhumibol was involved. They ranged from lettuce farms and cottage industries such as silk or cotton weaving to dams, schools, clinics and even rain generation plants. The King himself led development programmes in the poorest parts of the country and funded many of them from his own private funds. Successful projects would be passed on to the government for further development.

His excursions to the further reaches of his kingdom sometimes involved risk. In 1977, during a visit to a southern province, a bomb exploded near the royal entourage, but the King was unharmed. Whenever he traveled near the Laotian or Cambodian borders, a helicopter gunship would circle overhead and large numbers of troops would form a ring of protection on the ground.

The King of Thailand has little direct power under the constitution, but on several occasions Bhumibol used his considerable personal and moral authority to resolve political crises that threatened national stability and to try to inch Thailand nearer to stable democracy.

In 1992, for example, when a bloody cycle of pro-democracy protest and military repression seemed about to spiral out of control, the King summoned General Suchina Kraprayoon, the leader of the junta, and his principal civilian opponent for a late night audience.

In a nationally televised humiliation, the two men crawled on their knees to the feet of King Bhumibol for a royal reprimand: “You have not followed the people,” the King scolded quietly. “You talk democracy but you don’t do anything about it.” In one telling moment, the King defused the confrontation, paved the way for fresh elections and destroyed the two men’s careers.

King Bhumibol took great care to re-create the mystique that had surrounded Thai kings of old and revived ceremonies that had not been used since the time of his grandfather, Rama V. In addition to the title of King, he was revered by ordinary Thais as Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power, Brother of the Moon, Half-Brother of the Son, and Possessor of the Twenty-Four Golden Umbrellas.

He demanded, and usually received, absolute respect from his subjects. Every Thai house contained a prominent photograph of the bespectacled monarch, but it was considered impolite for a commoner’s feet to point directly at the picture. Those meeting the King were expected to do so with heads bowed, on their knees.

But it was not just his good works and popularity that boosted the royal image. That was also protected by a draconian lèse-majesté law which made it an offence punishable by between three and 15 years in jail to “defame, insult or threaten” any member of the royal family. The law was strictly enforced, and as recently as January 2009 an Australian writer was jailed for insulting the monarchy. “The moment you take away the mystique,” King Bhumibol explained, “the moment you expose the institution to the daily scrutiny of the modern media, you’ve had it.”

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej 

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej pictured in a wheelchair in April 2015. Credit: EPA/Royal Household Bureau

Prince Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua Bhumibol Adulayej was born on December 5 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Prince Mahidol of Songkla, half-brother and heir of the last absolute monarch of Thailand, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and the younger son of King Chulachomklao (Rama V, reigned 1868-1910).

The Chakri dynasty into which he was born dates back to 1782. Prince Bhumibol’s great-grandfather King Mongkut (King Chomklao, reigned 1851-1868) was splendidly, if inaccurately, brought to life in Anna and the King of Siam and, later, The King and I.

Prince Bhumibol’s father, Prince Mahidol, had married a Siamese commoner and studied to be a doctor. At the time of the birth of Prince Bhumibol, he was studying public health and medicine at Harvard and his wife was studying nursing and economics at Simmons College close by.

Prince Bhumibol was the youngest of the family’s three children, having an elder brother and sister. At the time of his birth, he was several steps removed from succession to the Thai throne, and his elder brother, Prince Ananda, had precedence.

Prince Mahidol died in 1928, when his son was a year old, and the family returned to Thailand where, as a young boy, Prince Bhumibol briefly attended Mater Dei Primary School. But in 1933, following a military coup, King Prajadhipok ordered the family to move to Lausanne, Switzerland. There the Prince attended the Ecole Miremont and the Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande, Chailly sur Lausanne. Later he enrolled at the Gymnase de Lausanne.

While the family were living in Switzerland, political changes in Thailand started the chain of events that would eventually elevate the young Prince Bhumibol to the throne.

In 1932, following the coup, King Prajadhipok agreed a new constitution that would replace Thailand’s absolute monarchy with a constitutional one, and in 1935 he abdicated the throne in favour of his nephew, Prince Ananda, then 10 years old. The two young princes visited Thailand briefly in 1938-39.

During the greater part of the Second World War, Thailand was controlled by a pro-Japanese puppet government, so that Princes Ananda and Bhumibol did not return there until late 1945, when Prince Ananda went to Bangkok for his coronation.

Before the ceremony could be performed, however, on the morning of June 9 1946 Prince Ananda was found in bed with a bullet in his skull and a revolver by his side. Despite a seven-year murder trial and the execution of three junior palace staff, there has never been a satisfactory explanation of why he died, and the death was officially ruled an accident. A book which suggested that Ananda killed himself because he had been forbidden to marry a Swiss girlfriend was banned in Thailand.

As King Ananda’s brother, Prince Bhumibol was named his successor by Act of Parliament. Two months later, after the legislature had appointed a two-man regency council to rule pending his coming of age, he returned to Switzerland to complete his education.

The young King had planned to become an architect and had enrolled at the University of Lausanne to study Engineering. Following his brother’s death, however, he changed his course to Law and Political Science.

When King Bhumibol attained his majority in December 1946, the Siamese government allocated several hundred thousand dollars for the ceremonial cremation of the remains of King Ananda, a necessary preliminary to the coronation of his successor who was required by religious custom to light the funeral pyre. Unsettled conditions in 1947 following a coup d’état forced a postponement, and court astrologers settled on March 2 1949 as the most auspicious date.

But in October 1948, King Bhumibol was seriously injured in a motor accident in Lausanne which left him blind in one eye and paralysed half his face. Both cremation and coronation had to be postponed once more.

By the time of his coronation, the King had married Princess Mom Rachawong Sirikit Kitiyakara, a great-granddaughter of a former king and thus a distant cousin. In the 1960s she would be described as one of the 10 most beautiful women in the world.

King Bhumipol had first met Princess Sirikit in Paris, where her father was serving as ambassador. She was 15 years old and training to be a concert pianist. While in hospital recovering from the motor accident, King Bhumibol asked to see her and they soon became engaged.

Their wedding, on April 28 1950, was described by The New York Times as “the shortest, simplest royal wedding ever held in the land of gilded elephants and white umbrellas”. The ceremony was performed by the King’s ageing grandmother, Queen Sawang Vadhana.

A week later, on May 5 1950, the formal coronation rites took place in the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall in the Grand Palace. It was the first coronation ceremony of a Thai sovereign to rule under the system of constitutional monarchy.

The royal couple spent their honeymoon at Hua Hin beach in southern Thailand before they returned to Switzerland, where the King completed his studies. They returned to Thailand in 1951.

In 1956 King Bhumibol followed Thailand’s spiritual tradition of entering the Buddhist monkhood of Sangkha for 15 days to practice meditation. He was ordained by the Supreme Patriarch on October 22 at the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace.

King Bhumibol remained sensitive to the way in which Thailand is perceived by the outside world. As well as making numerous state visits, he often employed his powers of clemency to secure the release of westerners held in the country’s jails.

He always liked to keep abreast of the latest developments in science and culture. He was an accomplished painter and photographer, and was the first member of the Thai royal family to be granted a patent for an invention. The registered patent is for the Chai Pattana Aerator Model RX 2, an apparatus for water treatment which can be seen operating in many polluted waterways in Thailand.

King Bhumibol was also a writer and musician. He translated several works of literature into Thai. He also composed a number of pop songs, including HM Blues and a little number called Oh I Say! One of his compositions, a beguine entitled Blue Night (with lyrics by the royal chamberlain) was incorporated in the 1950 Broadway revue Peep Show.

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His Majesty King Bhumibol played jazz with Benny Goodman and his band

As King, Bhumibol would serenade the population every Friday night on the saxophone, performing with a jazz group in the studios of the royal radio station. He would also become the first Asian composer to be honoured by being made a member of the Viennese Institute of Music and Arts.

The King had been a keen sportsman, fond of skiing, tennis and diving. A skilled sailor, he once sailed a dinghy single-handed across the dangerous Gulf of Thailand; in 1967 he won a gold medal in dinghy sailing for Thailand at the fourth South-East Asia Peninsula Games.

Although the King continued to be revered by most Thais, the palace had recently come in for some unprecedented, if discreet, criticism. There were allegations that the royal advisers interfered in politics, specifically that they played a part in inspiring the bloodless military coup of 2006 that ousted the democratically elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra, who had been prime minister for five years. In late 2008 both of Bangkok’s airports were closed by anti-government protesters, and in April 2009 100,000 demonstrators demanded the resignation of the King’s chief adviser, General Prem Tinsulanonda, whom they accused of masterminding the 2006 coup – which some believed that the King had privately endorsed. Although implicit rather than explicit criticism of the monarchy, this represented a significant change in the tenor of political debate.

King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit had one son and three daughters who, according to official sources, were all “deeply involved in activities to better the lot of the Thai people and are themselves loved and respected”.

The truth, suppressed in Thailand, was rather different. As a student in America, the King’s eldest daughter, Princess Ubol Ratana, fell in love with an American fellow student and settled in America as plain Mrs Jensen. Her photograph never appears in public in Thailand.

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His son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (pic above), was widely regarded as a playboy, and rumours about his dissipated lifestyle were legion. After divorcing his first wife, claiming that she spent too much time playing table tennis, he married a commoner by whom he already had teenage children. That marriage too ended when his second wife walked out to live with a retired air marshal in London.

In 1996, on the day his father celebrated 50 years on the throne, the Crown Prince pinned a proclamation on the walls of the Palace accusing his wife of adultery.

The Thai constitution was amended in the 1970s to allow a woman to succeed to the throne, and there were said to be many in Thailand who would have liked to have seen the crown pass to the King’s second daughter, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. In recent years, however, the Crown Prince’s standing has improved as he assumed more of his father’s ceremonial duties.

In October 2007, the king suffered the symptoms of a minor stroke; the following year he was unable to make his traditional annual birthday speech. Rumours around his health persisted over the following years, sometimes affecting the Thai financial markets.

He is survived by Queen Sirikit and their four children. He is succeeded to the throne by HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

His Majesty King Bhumbol Adulyadej of Thailand, born December 5 1927, died October 13 2016.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2016/10/13/king-bhumibol-adulyadej-of-thailand–obituary/

Thailand’s Referendum on Military Rule


August 4, 2016

Thailand’s Referendum on Military Rule

The junta has proposed a draft charter designed to stifle the political parties and run out the clock on the royal transition.

Thailand’s military government will hold a referendum on Sunday to seek approval for a new constitution, much as the last junta did nine years ago. Given the government’s control over the lead-up to the vote, a positive result should be a foregone conclusion, much as in 2007. But this time the referendum could backfire on the military.

The government deployed all its messengers to urge Thais to vote for the new constitution, from village headmen to broadcast media. The Referendum Act outlaws any overt opposition, making public debate impossible.

The biggest incentive to vote yes may be the fear of more upheaval. If the constitution is approved, elections will be held in late 2017 or early 2018, and Thailand will return to a semblance of normality. A no vote means the country once again faces political uncertainty. The constitution-drafting timetable would start again, unless the junta decides to adopt one of Thailand’s many previous charters.

Constitutional blackmail worked last time. When a similar cast of generals staged a coup in September 2006 and duly came up with a constitution and referendum in August 2007, they argued that a rejection of the proposed charter would only prolong military rule. The charter passed by a 57% approval rate on the same percentage of voter turnout.

But many Thais have drawn a lesson from the fact that the generals staged yet another coup in 2014. Voting for the charter in 2007 allowed a general election to take place, but it only led to the same sort of political polarization, street protests and another putsch. Meanwhile, the current junta leader and prime minister, Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, has made clear he will retain considerable power even under an elected government.

This referendum, like the one in 2007, is inevitably a verdict on the coup. This time Thailand has not had an election in more than five years and has been ruled by the military for more than two. Discontent seems to be running higher.

It’s true that discontent is difficult to gauge accurately. In December the government released the result of an opinion poll showing that 99.3% of Thais were satisfied with its performance. Because of the Referendum Act, Thais are understandably reluctant to tell pollsters that they will vote no.

But recent polls have consistently shown a high number of “undecideds.” Those who are ostensibly on the fence are likely to come down firmly on the rejection side Sunday. The higher the turnout, the more likely a no vote, as disaffected voters seek to register their disapproval.

In 2007, ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party didn’t oppose the new constitution because it expected to regain power after an election. The past decade suggests the military won’t allow that to happen again. Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister deposed in 2014 and Mr. Thaksin’s sister, is opposed to the constitution, along with many of her “red shirt” supporters.

About half of Thailand’s main opposition Democrat Party, including its leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, is against the draft charter. The rest of the Democrats are more supportive of Suthep Thaugsuban, the former deputy leader who led street rallies against the Yingluck government and paved the way for the coup.

The two most popular parties oppose the charter because its provisions are stacked in favor of long-term military supervision of Thai politics. The military’s appointees, rather than elected representatives, will hold the real power.

The Revered His Majesty King of Thailand and Popular POTUS

The draft charter’s 279 articles hobble elected representatives with all kinds of “checks,” but offer little balance. It envisages a paternalistic state that contradicts other clauses on decentralization and community rights.

The overall aim is to create coalition governments that are fragile and fractious. Power would shift to the judiciary and a Senate appointed by the junta.

To be sure, the 21 junta-appointed charter drafters had good intentions to combat corruption and screen out unscrupulous politicians. But top-down rules can’t create the kind of good society many Thais aspire to. Only bottom-up processes based on merit and integrity can keep corruption at bay.

The referendum contains a related question of whether senators along with lower-house representatives should have the right to select the prime minister. That makes it possible that Gen. Prayut or a junta proxy could lead the post-election government.

Either way, Thailand’s military government intends to maintain power for the foreseeable future. Charter-drafting efforts and election promises are designed to appease domestic dissent and international pressure. But the real aim for the military will be to run out the clock on Thailand’s royal transition.

Many Thais implicitly understand this delicate situation even as they disagree with the military’s constitutional plans. They would likely settle for a more democratic interim with basic rights and freedoms, currently suppressed under junta rule, while this process takes place.

Mr. Thitinan teaches at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and directs its Institute of Security and International Studies.

 

The Politics of Thailand


August 2, 2016

The Politics of Thailand

The Generals who hide behind the throne

Thailand is ill-prepared for the death of its King

TO THE tourists who still flock to its beaches and golden temples, Thailand seems calm. But this is an illusion. Thai politics are as ugly as the country is beautiful—and could soon get uglier. The country’s beloved king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose 70th year on the throne was celebrated on June 9th, is 88 years old and gravely ill. The country is scared of what might happen when he dies (see article).

Were Thailand a normal democracy with a constitutional monarchy, the death of a king would cause national sorrow but not political instability. Alas, it is not. Two years ago the army seized power in a bloodless coup. An “interim” constitution grants the prime minister and junta leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, almost unlimited power. Because the regime is illegitimate, it hides behind Thailand’s most revered institution.

Its propagandists do all they can to fizz up adulation of the monarchy; for example, by building colossal statues of seven Thai kings. And the regime has applied Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté laws with ferocity, arresting people for the slightest perceived insult to the dignity of the king, his family or even his pet dog. Those deemed to have defamed his majesty face up to 30 years in prison. This creates an atmosphere in which critics of the government, too, can be bludgeoned into silence.

Whereas Mr Prayuth rambles self-righteously on his weekly television show, opposition parties are gagged and parliament stuffed with the junta’s allies. The regime has hauled critics to army bases for “attitude adjustment”. It has charged Thailand’s former Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, with neglect-in-office, and may hand her ten years in jail. The army’s latest ploy is a new constitution, which would allow fresh elections but keep the next government subservient to a nominated senate and a handful of junta-stacked committees.

New Constitution

It hopes to win public approval for this plan in a referendum on August 7. Just to make sure, it has trained bureaucrats to “explain” the charter to voters, but it forbids civilians from campaigning against it, on pain of a ten-year prison sentence.

The generals insist that their actions have been for the good of Thailand. Their coup in 2014 ended months of pro- and anti-government street protests, which had turned violent. Locking out Ms Yingluck, they hint, keeps a dodgy family out of power. Ms Yingluck backed an amnesty bill that could have allowed her brother, Thaksin, another former prime minister, to return from exile in Dubai. The army had deposed him in 2006, arguing that his administration was corrupt.

Indeed it was, but probably no more so than most Thai governments. The army’s excuses for seizing power are wearing thin. Thailand has seen a dozen successful coups since the 1930s and a new constitution on average every four years. The army typically installs conservative governments that favour the urban elite. That has entrenched inequality and infuriated the rural poor. Mr Thaksin won two elections by wooing poor voters with free public health care and subsidies for farmers. He may have left the scene, but his supporters are still there.

The Crown Prince 

The army has long defended its coups by claiming to have the king’s support. After taking power, coup-leaders have always trekked to the palace to receive royal assent. But if King Bhumibol is succeeded by the crown prince, who is unpopular, the claim of royal approval will count for less. Elites fret that the succession will disrupt long lines of patronage which for generations have shovelled wealth and influence their way. They fear that anti-government activists will seize the chance to push for big changes in how the country is run.

Little time, much to do

With luck, the succession will pass peacefully. But securing long-term stability will require reforms that the army may not like. Royals should speak out against the lèse-majesté law (which King Bhumibol has already once condemned, in 2005). The generals must allow Thais the freedom to debate the new constitution. A better one would be more like the 1997 charter, so far Thailand’s best. If and when the soldiers return to barracks, they will need pruning: their idle ranks include more generals and admirals than America’s armed forces, which serve a superpower nearly five times as populous.

Politicians must rethink, too. Thailand’s middle classes may find Thaksinite populism abhorrent, but they have failed to provide poorer Thais with an alternative. The Democrat Party, the establishment’s main political outfit, has been squealing about the generals’ stifling rule. But for years it has put off the groundwork needed to win an election, betting instead that friends in the army or judiciary will help it. Any lasting solution will require decentralising power to the provinces.

Untangling this mess will take years, but it is not impossible. If the junta blocks reform, allies such as America should impose financial sanctions and travel bans on its leaders and their cronies. Thailand needs a civilian government that is accountable to voters and the law, not to the men with guns.

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21702467-thailand-ill-prepared-death-its-king-generals-who-hide-behind-throne?fsrc=scn/fb/te/pe/ed/thegeneralswhohidebehindthethrone