His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Legacy

October 15, 2016

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Legacy

by Nicholas Farrelly


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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


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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 Passing of Israel’s Man of Peace and Nobel Laureate, Shimon Peres

September 28, 2016

The Passing of Israel’s Man of Peace and Nobel Laureate, President Shimon Peres

2016 has so far not been a particularly great year for me. It is in fact a time of sadness and serious contemplation. Earlier I lost my childhood friend and Malaysia’s Iron Gate  Footballer, Dato’ Yusoff Bakar, followed by the death in San Francisco of  Dato’ Dr. Haron Din who is a model of a good Muslim (his politics aside), and then the passing of my golfing hero and legend,  Arnold D. Palmer. Today I learn  that my favourite Middle East statesman and a man of Peace, Nobel Laureate President Shimon Peres has died.

People in Syria and the Middle East, and elsewhere are dying daily because leaders of powerful countries  and their proxies cannot talk peace. The rest of us are content to watch the carnage on the sidelines. We seem to have forgotten what Shimon Peres had tried to accomplish in his life time.

To Prime Minister Bibi Nyatenyahu and the people of Israel,  and in particular  readers in Israel on my blog, I wish to express our sincere condolences (Dr. Kamsiah and I) on the passing of their former President. Let us all remember the deeds and celebrate the life of President Shimon Peres. –Din Merican and Dr. Kamsiah Haider.

Shimon Peres, the last of Israel’s founding fathers, was an effective orator, and over the decades was a fountain of seemingly effortless bons mots and poetic musings on war, peace and Israel’s future. Here are some of his best:


I’ve been controversial for most of my life. Suddenly, I’ve become popular. I don’t know when I was wrong, then or now.

September 2007, Haaretz

Sometimes people ask me, ‘What is the greatest achievement you have reached in your lifetime or that you will reach in the future?’ So I reply that there was a great painter named Mordecai Ardon, who was asked which picture was the most beautiful he had ever painted. Ardon replied, ‘The picture I will paint tomorrow.’ That is also my answer.

May 2011, Maariv

At my age, after looking back, if I feel that I have to make a choice between being experienced and cynical or being curious and innocent, I prefer the second. It is much more appealing.

May 2000, The Jerusalem Post


For peace, one must remember: As a bird cannot fly with one wing, as a man cannot applaud with one hand, so a country cannot make peace just with one side, with itself. For peace, we need the two of us.

June 1996, at Hebrew University in Jerusalem

He who has despaired from peace is the one hallucinating. Whoever gives in and stops seeking peace — he is naïve, he is the one who is not a patriot! In order to be practical and not hallucinate and not be naïve, there is a need to recognize several basic truths that are sharp, clear and eternal:

Israel will not have permanent security without peace. Israel will not have a stable thriving economy without peace. Israel will not have a healthy society free from poverty and discrimination without peace. Israel has no chance of preserving its Jewish democratic character without peace. Israel will be giving up its future if it sees the status quo as its desire.

November 2014 at Rabin Square

It took Zionism 25 years to overcome its great error — its attempt to ignore the existence of the Palestinians in this land — and Oslo was the true and correct beginning of such a solution. More than anything else, Oslo was proof that we can live in this land another way.

September 2003, Ma’ariv


I believe that in foreign policy, it is better to talk like a lion in a sheep’s skin rather than a sheep in a lion’s mane. It’s a matter of taste. I think it is more effective to understate.

April 2012, Ma’ariv

Nuclear Weapons

The nuclear option is that most of our neighbors, who want to destroy us, believe that Israel has the capability to destroy them. Their suspicion is our strength.”

November 2009, Yedioth Ahronoth

There is no doubt that an Iran with nuclear weapons is a mortal danger. I also have no doubt that Israel has to view this matter with all seriousness and gravity. Iran is a danger to the entire world. It is currently as dangerous to America as it is to Israel, and that is a good union. We have often been alone.

August 2012, Mako


Jewish history is devoid of any desire to rule over another people. I think that what is happening now is a deviation. All the people who ruled over us have been erased from the stage of history. We are the only ones who never ruled over anyone else, and we prevailed.

February 1988, The Jerusalem Post


 Human Rights

I support the right of every human being to marriage, including gay marriage. Every human being has the right to breathe fresh air, to eat food, to fall in love with whoever they want. According to our tradition, we are all created equal.

December 2013, Facebook

Science and Technology

We know already that computers are mightier than guns. We know that the new opportunities reside in the campuses of the scientists, rather than in the camps of the army.

May 1994, at the signing of the Gaza-Jericho Accord


You know what our greatest lack is? It’s that we have nothing. This small piece of land is an arid land — swamp in the north, desert in the south, and no water. We have two lakes — one is dead, the other dying. We have one river — which has fame but no water. If you want to pray, you go to the Jordan River, but if you want to irrigate, go somewhere else.

November 2011, CNN


Golf Legend Arnold Palmer Dies at 87

September 26, 2016

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Arnold Palmer, the champion golfer whose full-bore style of play, thrilling tournament victories and magnetic personality inspired an American golf boom, attracted a following known as Arnie’s Army and made him one of the most popular athletes in the world, died on Sunday, according to a spokesman for his business enterprises. Palmer was 87.

Thayaparan: On Dr. Haron Din’s Politics

September 18, 2016

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The Late Dato’ Dr. Haron Din is no longer with us. He passed away in San Francisco where he was being treated for a heart condition at Stanford University Medical Center, Palo Alto. His last wish was that he should be put to rest in the place of his death (We are free to choose where we wish to be buried and there is nothing confusing about this, Cmdr Thayaparan).

I am saddened by his loss because the passing of friends and associates of my generation reminds me of my own mortality. So I dedicate Al-Fatihah to this man of Faith and I wish to express our heartfelt condolences (Dr. Kamsiah and I) to his bereaved family. Both Dr. Haron and his brother Dato Abu Hassan Din Al-Hafiz are known to me since they are from Perlis and I met them in person  over the years. I enjoyed their tv lectures in the’80s.

My memory of Dr. Haron is at the time of his passing is that of a good Muslim and an Islamic intellectual, not as a politician from PAS. Out of respect for Dr. Haron, I will not comment on Thayaparan’s take on the man’s politics.–Din Merican

Thayaparan: On Dr. Haron Din’s Politics

by Cmdr S. Thayaparan

COMMENT:  Writing of the dead American Christian extremist Reverend Jerry Falwell, Christopher Hitchens who died of cancer some years back, said, “The evil that he did will live after him. This is not just because of the wickedness that he actually preached, but because of the hole that he made in the ‘wall of separation’ that ought to divide religion from politics.”

As that particular type of Muslim Malaysian, Haron Din did not believe in that “wall of separation” between mosque and state. Indeed, he believed that the enemies of Islam – always Islam, never his political adversaries – were those who believed in “the wall”, liberalism, freedom of religion and speech, in “Western” human rights, those things that the spiritual leader told his flock were anathema to Islam.

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His weltanschauung was a wall of separation between those who believed in his version of Islam and those who were the enemies of Islam, in other words those who believed in anything else, including different interpretations of Islam.

The apogee of his crusade against the so-called “enemies” of Islam was when he accused former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and de facto leader of the opposition of working with the enemies of Islam, implying the DAP and well, anyone who disagreed with him.

This did not go down well with me and I wrote, “What happens if an IS (Islamic State) sympathiser reads Haron Din’s hate speech and carries out an attack on the DAP or somebody who supports the DAP or a Muslim who supports the DAP or just that unlucky Malaysian who is caught in the cross hairs? What is the difference between Haron Din’s view of Islam and the view of those IS members waiting to murder for their cause?

“I am talking about perspectives here, not methodology. I have no idea if the spiritual adviser supports the methodology of IS. I know that he shares the same views. I know that what he wants to achieve is exactly what they want to achieve but for now, someone like him is comfortable using hate speech in service of a democratic agenda.”

This was what was so frustrating for many others and me. Haron Din was willing to use democracy to legitimately gain power and subvert those very principles once in power. Of course, the fault is in our hands. We legitimised Haron Din and his political party in the hopes that common sense would prevail over religious impulse.

Three years ago, in a piece titled, ‘Mat Taib, Haron Din and PAS’ hudud games’, I wrote: “I have always argued that PAS is the sole ideological coherent party in the alternative alliance and with the exception of PSM (which is on unsteady ground when it comes to a strict reading of its ideological bedrock) will probably be the last party standing together with UMNO, when the non-Malays lose the racial demographic war.”

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In those days, opposition supporters were furious that Haron Din was on the campaign trail telling the faithful that the only way to implement hudud was gaining federal power. He rallied his supporters; those supporters who were now mainstream thanks to the ‘PAS for all’ kool aid, which spillage on the Internet ruined many a commentary.

Evicting spirits

Some people, as I wrote, “dismiss people like Haron Din as UMNO sub rosa provocateurs (sic) but the reality is that this is a very real dialectic within PAS.” Many opposition supporters believe that the dialectic was over when Amanah was formed and of course even more so now that Haron Din has passed, but this is not the case. There will always be the dialectic simmering between the spiritualists of PAS and the middle ground technocrats, which ultimately will determine the fate of the party and unfortunately the country.

However, the mundane world of Malaysian politics, the ‘muggle world’ so to speak, was just part of the complex realities that Haron Din operated within. While your average online partisan would mock the spiritual leader for betraying whatever cause the opposition claimed they were part of, there were thousands of Muslim Malaysians who viewed the man not as a politician but rather as a spiritual warrior on the frontlines of defending their souls.

As Haron Din told AFP 11 years ago, “They have problems, not only physical problems but also spiritual problems, including black magic.” While Haron Din was the bete noire of opposition supporters, it was these people – his real followers – who fervently believed in the austere Islam he promised them was their salvation and Malaysia’s.

While disowning the title of “bomoh” – “The term bomoh in the Malay community is different to the Islamic healer. The bomoh uses inhuman words, perhaps words of the wild spirit. This is prohibited in Islam” – he honestly believed in the dominion he had over the supernatural world. (It is my experience that Islamists in the Wahhabi mode disown their culture in favour of whatever is peddled by the House of Saud.)

From the AFP article: “Haron, an intense, compact man in a blue tunic and white Islamic cap, finds no conflict between his deeply held religious convictions and his dealings with the world of ‘wild spirits’, which he says are addressed in the Quran.”

The world of wild spirits sound much like Malaysian politics, only much more exciting. Evicting spirits seemed to be Haron’s main mission. He was extremely conscious of the fact that we were sharing this world with other beings – “This world does not belong to human beings only, this world belongs to the creatures, animals, plants, trees and the spirits. When we want to build our houses or projects we don’t care about them, we just go ahead and clear areas. When that happens, there is a reaction on humans.”

In his life, Haron Din evicted, and sometimes relocated, wild spirits who were attempting to plague the Muslim Malaysian community and at the same time, he was defending Islam from the numerous enemies that attempted to subvert its true purpose, a purpose that Haron Din was custodian of.

If anything, his politics and his spirituality were not mutually exclusive and he never claimed they were. Maybe having spent so much time safeguarding the spirituality of his flock, he truly believed that aligning PAS with UMNO would hasten the eviction of “wild spirits” from Malaysia.

I have no idea why he would want to be buried in San Francisco, the epicentre of everything he despised but ultimately it is not important what people like me and other opposition supporters say about him. The Haron Din we think we know is the least interesting thing about the man. There are many who will mourn his passing for reasons that we will never understand but as he once said, “Most of the spirits in Malaysia know me.”