The Late King, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej served as Thailand’s longest reigning Monarch for a record 70 years since His Late Majesty’s enthronement on 5th December 1927.
In this remarkable 70 year rule, despite evolving times with periods of volatile international and domestic circumstances, the institution of the Thai Monarchy went from strength to strength attaining a high level of respect and influence under King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej was loved and respected by Thais, above all, for giving stability, certainty and enabling prosperity even in times of various external and internal challenges.
One has to talk to ordinary Thais to understand the reasons for the popularity of His Late Majesty.
Thais credit King Bhumibol’s 70 year reign for ensuring a peaceful and prosperous Thailand in a neighborhood marred with wars, dictatorial communist governments, revolutions and even mass genocide, especially during the volatile Cold War period and its resultant impacts on the region.
Many Thais feel that though Thailand in its modern history saw some internal political upheavals, the steady and stabilizing presence and effect of the Monarchy ensured that things did not get out of hand, and whatever the political circumstances, Thai society and development proceeded well.
As an example, one image or instance often cited by Thais is in 1992 when two opposing factions in Thailand looked like they would lead Thailand to major civil strife and possible civil war. The leaders of both factions ultimately bowed before His Majesty and made peace.
Thailand in effect underwent several transitions in the 70 years, and the people feel all of them have been stable and largely peaceful due to the leadership of King Bhumibol.
The Thai Monarchy is an old one with an important historical and even mythological role in Thai polity and society.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej also trained and held the role of a Buddhist high priest as part of His Majesty’s many duties highlighting the Monarch’s important spiritual and ritual ceremonial role in a mainly devout Buddhist nation. Pictures of His Majesty as a Buddhist monk are widely available in Thailand.
This, in part, explains the mass outpouring of grief among Thais given the important role of King Bhumibol and the Thai Monarchy in people’s daily lives and also in their idea of Thai society and nation.
King Bhumibol, as shown in the many early pictures is also regarded as a pioneer in rural development and agriculture, which are seen as the key elements of Thai prosperity. His Late Majesty personally led efforts to bring about innovation in rural agriculture to the extent of even having experimental farms and crops in the palace compound. The value of such acts was not lost on many successive democratic and military governments in Thailand.
One testament to His Majesty’s efforts are several irrigation projects in various parts of Thailand, encouraged and some even funded by His Majesty over the years.
His Majesty also carried out several other important developmental initiatives in rural Thailand which continue to this day in the forms of various projects.
Another element of the Thai Monarchy under King Bhumibol was the large scale charitable activities carried out by the Monarch for underprivileged section of Thai society. This giving and activities also included funds raised by the Monarchy as well as the personal funds and resources of the Monarch.
The Thai Monarchy under King Bhumibol was also a well connected one with the people, with His Majesty making trips all over Thailand and especially in the countryside to be with the people, to witness their lives and to listen to them.
King Bhumibol’s pictures often show the Late King with a camera on hand, a personal and well known hobby. The late King was also known to be an accomplished musician especially on the Saxophone and His Late Majesty was also a skilled sailor by all accounts.
King Bhumibol was also popularly seen by Thais as a benevolent father figure and as someone who looked out for them. This sentiment can be seen in the expression of many Thais mourning the loss of a national father figure.
In that sense despite differing political situations in Thailand, right from the early days, the Thai Monarchy under King Bhumibol built a strong, personal and unshakeable bond with the Thai people and society.
This was not only based on mythological, historical and cultural norms associated with the Thai Monarchy, but more importantly on a painstakingly built relationship between the King and his people in a variety of spheres.
Apart from the relationship Thais could look up to their leader as a symbol of moral authority and dignity and a central stabilizing pillar around which Thai society, culture and even the state revolved.
The Thai and Bhutanese Monarchy have had a close and friendly relationship of mutual respect right from the time of His Majesty The Fourth King.
Thai’s considered His Majesty The King and the Late King Bhumibol to have had a strong personal relationship too.
His Majesty The King became well known to the Thai public during a visit in 2006 when His Majesty visited Thailand as the Crown Prince to be a part of the celebrations of the 60th Anniversary of the King Bhumibol’s reign.
The images of the first official and public encounter between His Majesty as the Crown Prince and His Majesty King Bhumibol went down well in Thailand, leading to the start of a strong following of His Majesty in Thailand that continues to this day expressed popularly by ordinary Thais as ‘King Jigme…very good’ often accompanied with a smile and a Thumbs up to convey their full sense of appreciation.
For many Thais His Majesty the King in his bearing, speech and conduct was seen as an ideal Monarch, and His Majesty was idealized even more once they learnt about Bhutan with many news articles, features and TV documentaries on Bhutan and its Monarchy.
In that sense as His Majesty The King visits Thailand to attend the funeral ceremony of King Bhumibol, His Majesty for many Thais has become the most recognizable face among foreign leaders associated with King Bhumibol not only in an official capacity but also in a deeply personal and positive way.
There are various lenses through which one can look at the legacy of King Bhumibol and each lens may have its own variation, but what everybody would agree is the tremendously important and stabilizing role played by His Late Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Thailand’s modern history. Thais and the Thailand of today still in fact stand defined by His Late Majesty’s legacy.