The institution of the monarchy in Thailand is in many ways unique. Not only does it have a history going back more than seven hundred years, but it has also managed to preserve its relevance in the contemporary world. A constitutional monarchy since the promulgation of the Kingdom’s first constitution in 1932, the institution today continues to command deep, universal respect and serves as a guiding light and unifying force for the country, a focal point that brings together people from all backgrounds and shades of political thought and gives them an intense awareness of being Thai.
The love and reverence the Thai people have for their King stem in large part from the moral authority His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej has earned during his reign, one that involves a remarkable degree of personal contact with the people. At the same time, it is rooted in attitudes that can be traced to the earliest days of Thailand as a nation state and in some of the past monarchs who continue to serve as models of kingship.
Thai 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 kingdom. Here, particularly under the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great (1275-1317), 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. Such forms part of Dasavidha-rājadhamma, or the ten precepts of kingship, which – rooted in the tradition of Theravada Buddhism – encompasses such virtues as willingness to give and sacrifice for a greater good, morality, honesty, open-mindedness, diligence, compassion, perseverance and righteousness.
With the founding of the Chakri dynasty in 1782 and the establishment of Bangkok as the capital, kingship was based primarily on adherence to the said Buddhist concepts of virtue, which indeed has served to the present day as a code of conduct of a Thai monarch and made the monarchical institution one that is responsive to the need of the people. The Bangkok period has produced a succession of able kings, capable of meeting a variety of challenges to the country, to the people as well as to the monarchy itself.
Today, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic form of government. The Thai monarch reigns, but does not rule. He discharges his roles in accordance with the country’s constitution and remains above partisan politics, while continuing to contribute to the development and well-being of the Kingdom and its people.