The institution of the monarchy in Thailand is in many ways unique. Not only does it have a history going back more than 700 years, but it also continues to function with extraordinary relevance and vitality in the contemporary world. Indeed, although the Revolution of 1932 brought an end to monarchy in its absolute form, the institution today can be said to be more powerful than ever, in the sense of providing a unifying element for the country. It remains a focal point that brings together people from all backgrounds and shades of political thought and gives them an intense awareness of being Thai. This was clearly shown by the unprecedented outpouring of public pride and personal affection that in 1996 greeted the occasion of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 50 years on the throne, making him the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. The love the Thai people have for their king is also apparent in countless other ways, large and small.
The intensity of respect felt by Thai people for their king stems in large part from the distinctive form the modern monarchy has taken under his own leadership, one that involves a remarkable degree of personal contact. At the same time, it is rooted in attitudes that can be traced to the earliest days of Thailand as a nation, and to some of the past rulers who continue to serve as models of kingship.
The concepts of monarchy have their origins in Sukhothai, founded in the early part of the 13th century and generally regarded as the first truly independent Thai capital. Here, particularly under the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great (1279-1300) was born the ideal of a paternalistic ruler alert to the needs of his people and aware of the fact that his duty was to guide them. This is a view markedly different from the divine kingship practiced in other countries, for example by the Khmers.
The ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty, established in the 18th century, King Bhumibol is revered for His intelligence, vision, grace, and for His concern for all His subjects. As the supreme guardian of Thailand’s Buddhist religion, the King is the symbol of Thailand’s cultural identity.
Since 1932, kings of Thailand have exercised their constitutional legislative powers through a bicameral National Assembly comprised of a House of Representatives elected by popular vote and a Senate appointed by the King upon recommendation of the Prime Minister. Thai kings exercise executive powers through the cabinet headed by a prime minister, and judicial powers through the law courts. While not directly involved in Thailand’s political life, the King exerts a strong moral influence on carefully selected issues.
His Majesty the King was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on December 5, 1927. Married to Queen Sirikit, King Bhumibol is the father of four grown children. Like the King, all members of His royal family perform duties in the interest and welfare of the Thai people.
Known to many as the “working monarch”, King Bhumibol travels the remote rural areas of the vast reaches of His country to develop more complete and first-hand understanding of the assets and hardships of His subjects. During His time on the throne, His Majesty has launched a multitude of development projects alleviating disease, promoting a better rural economy, and preserving and protecting Thailand’s natural environment. A large number of projects result from His Majesty’s own experimentation and are funded from His private funds. Projects showing satisfactory results are passed on to the Government for further development.
During the years of King Bhumibol’s reign, Thailand has enjoyed enviable economic growth. With its agrarian base and dynamic private sector as its bedrock, Thailand boasts a complex export-led economy which embraces the latest technologies and includes tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, minerals, and communications.