The Modern Monarch
Although the stamp of his upbringing is evident in everything he does, His Majesty's ideas and ideals also reflect over 700 years of Thai history and cultural development. His views have been shaped by the gradual evolution of the concept of Kingship's rights and responsibilities, tried and tested by centuries of challenges.
"Thailand today is one of the anchors of the modern, prosperous Southeast Asia. Bangkok has become one of the world's great cities and commercial centres. Much of this extraordinary success is due to the wise guidance of King Bhumibol. The King has led by example. He has embodied the ten traditional moral principals of Buddhist kings: charity toward the poor; morality; sacrifice of personal interest; honesty; courtesy; self-restraint; tranquility of temperament; non-violence; patience; and impartiality in settling disputes. And he has led by action. Together, King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit have devoted decades to improving the lives of Thai people in rural and impoverished regions. They constantly travel the country's 73 provinces, meeting with villagers and staying close to the people. The results are obvious in improved public health, the spread of education to all Thai children and the renewal of traditional crafts and textiles."
Senator Max Baucus, U.S. Senate 1995
Key Influences on H.M.
His Majesty is the latest in a long line of impressive Monarchs that stretches back over seven centuries. On a stone, erected in the heart of Sukhothai, the first Thai Kingdom, King Ramkhamhaeng carved the words: "In the fields there is rice, in the water there is fish. The faces of the people shine brightly" Hundreds of years later, the meaning of this phrase is also reflected through King Bhumibol Adulyadej's dedication to his people. It is this selfless dedication rather than any strict protocol or tradition that has earned him the deep love and reverence of the Thai nation. King Bhumibol Adulyadej's dedication, open style of Kingship and cosmopolitan outlook can be traced back to both his Great-Grandfather His Majesty King Mongkut, and his Grandfather, His Majesty King Chulalongkorn.
His Majesty King Mongkut (Rama IV, 1851-1868).
Ordained as a Buddhist monk at the age of 20, King Mongkut spent 27 years as an important ecclesiastical leader. Under his guidance, Thai Buddhism was cleansed of its superstitious elements. Through his reforming zeal, King Mongkut brought religion firmly into the mid-19th century and made it, once again, a vital force in Thai daily life. King Mongkut, who taught himself English, was highly intelligent-a fact that foreign visitors to the Kingdom noted in their journals. He gained sufficient facility to converse with missionaries who found him witty and intellectually curious about everything. His experience as a monk had brought him into first-hand contact not only with foreigners but also ordinary citizens and gave him insight into their daily lives and perceptions. King Mongkut also pursued an open door policy. Among his innovative ventures was to offer President James Buchanan (1857-1861) Thai elephants to handle heavy work.
His Majesty King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910)
King Chulalongkorn came to the Throne in 1868 and reigned during some of the region's most tumultuous history, leaving the stage in 1910 as one of the Kingdom's longest-reigning Monarchs. King Chulalongkorn's influence is evident in his cosmopolitan style of Kingship. This forward-looking Monarch began the practice of educating his many sons in a dozen European capitals. His aim was to enhance Thailand's presence abroad, to gain new knowledge, and to absorb tenets of administration which could be usefully employed in Thailand . His sons later supervised foreign advisors engaged by the Crown to re-shape Thai government departments along international standards. In the process, he set another precedent-later emulated by Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother in providing funds to train doctors abroad-to finance the foreign education of worthy candidates among the nobility. By these means he modernised and streamlined Thailand's bureaucracy to oversee administration more efficiently. He also brought all parts of the Kingdom under the central government and initiated far-reaching development projects. One such example is the inauguration of the Rangsit Canal project northwest of Bangkok , which crisscrossed more than 100 square km. of rice land with a grid of canals for irrigation and transportation contributing to Thailand's reputation as a rich rice bowl. This interest in irrigation and development is also shared by his Grandson, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. It was during King Chulalongkorn's Reign that Bangkok's city walls were dismantled, a symbol of a broader access to the world. Reaching out, he became Thailand's first King to travel extensively on State Visits. At a time when the colonising zeal was taking over neighboring nations, he demonstrated to foreign governments that Thailand was not in need of civilising but was already a full-fledged member of the world community.
The first two sections of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand of 2007 state that “Thailand is one indivisible Kingdom” and that “Thailand follows a democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State”. Under the provisions of a constitutional monarchy, the King serves in a ceremonial capacity and functions as a stabilizing force. Section 3 of the Constitution further stipulates that “sovereign power belongs to the Thai people. The King as Head of State shall exercise such power through the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers and the Courts in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution”. While the actual governing and adjudicating is vested in the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers and the Courts, their pronouncements, laws and judgments are promulgated or issued in the name of the King. The second chapter of the Constitution relates directly to the King. Section 8 states that “The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action”. Following sections enumerate his specific duties and prerogatives. Section 9 for example, states that “The King is a Buddhist and Upholder of religions”, while Section 10 provides that “The King holds the position of Head of the Thai Armed Forces,” which reflects the ancient role of the “warrior king”.
Meaning of the Titles
His traditional titles reflect an ancient role and serve as a mandate for his development work. In 1974, they were described succinctly by M.R. Kukrit Pramoj (1911-1995), the great-grandson of His Majesty King Rama II, in an address to the American Chamber of Commerce. M.R. Kukrit served as Thailand's Prime Minister in 1975-76 and throughout his life was regarded as a fount of knowledge about Thai culture: In Sukhothai, the King was known simply as Poh Khun, meaning "father of the people". His role was to look after the welfare of his subjects. From the Ayutthaya period (1351-1767) to the present he has been known by six titles. First, he was called Phra Chao Yu Hua, literally the "God Upon our Head" or less literally as the "National God Head". The second term was "Phra Chao Paen Din" or "Lord of the Land". It implies that he is the owner of all lands in the Kingdom. It is his role to see to it that those lands are preserved, protected and plentiful. The present King plays this role in all seriousness and with complete dedication. The third term is "Chao Jivit" or "Lord of Life". From the very beginning the power of life and death in Thai society was vested in the King alone. The fourth role of the Monarch is the "Dhammaraja", meaning "the King of Law", Knowledge and Morality. In this position the King passes laws and decrees for the benefit of the people and sees to it that those laws are kept. The fifth term by which the King is known and more commonly than some other terms is "Phra Mahakashatriya", "the Great Warrior". There has been a succession of Great Warrior Kings in Thai History and this term implies the role of the King as Supreme Chief of the Armed Forces. The sixth and last term by which the King is known is "Nai Luang", which means simply: "He Who is Great in Affairs". It means that the King is involved in all affairs of State. --From Kukrit Pramoj: His Wit and Wisdom, compiled by Vilas Manivat. Editions Duang Kamol, Bangkok , 1983.
His Majesty serves as a symbol of stability and of moral rectitude to his subjects. Although he does not hold constitutional authority, he guides by moral suasion and example, through his words and his writings. His activities and those of the Royal Family are covered on the evening television news broadcasts and are avidly followed by all Thais.
Inspires by Example
His Majesty seeks to illuminate, educate, and inspire by example. The personal sacrifices he has made provide striking examples of selfless dedication and have served as models for his people. Numerous NGOs and foundations have been formed in response to his example to deal with small but important elements of development. He has written books and articles which are examined in rigorous detail by his people. His homilies and advices are also heeded. He has a knack for telling stories which illustrate a larger point, conveying in a few pithy words a portrait readily accessible to a broad spectrum of the population. One of his most persuasive presence is evident in his annual Birthday Address early each December. Televised and avidly watched by millions throughout the Kingdom, His Majesty speaks before an assemblage of government officials and distinguished guests, summing up the past year, new initiatives, what he has learned, and the direction he feels the nation should take in the coming year.
"To act for the common good does not mean that everyone must make sacrifices to the extent of denuding oneself. Far from it. It, however, means that one should sacrifice what can be sacrificed in order for the whole to survive."
Constitutional Role in Crisis Management
His Majesty's moral authority was reinforced by his judicious interventions to put an end to widening political bloodshed. Two of the most crucial of those times occurred in 1973 and 1991. The 1973 uprising grew out of public frustration over the government's slow pace in effecting democratic reforms. The government's arrest of 13 activists led to street demonstrations demanding their release and calls for the swift enactment of a new constitution. The confrontations led to armed repression by the authorities who pushed the demonstrators towards the Palace. Realising that the protestors were being injured, His Majesty ordered the gates opened so they could seek shelter. Clashes between protesters and soldiers/police escalated leading to the fleeing of the country by some government leaders. Recognizing the need to re-establish order, His Majesty appointed a respected university rector, countersigned by the Acting House Speaker, to head an interim government and peace was restored. In 1992, a group of senior military officers seized power, threatening the country’s fledging democracy. The following year, the winning party in parliamentary elections invited one of the coup plotters to become Prime Minister. The move sparked dissent among the public, which felt that democratic principles were being undermined. Large crowds took to the streets to demand the Prime Minister's resignation. The army attempted to suppress the protest resulting in many deaths. To avoid further bloodshed, His Majesty invited the two leaders of the opposing sides to Chitralada Villa. In a televised meeting, he enjoined them to think of the country and to take the necessary steps to resolve the situation. His actual words were "there has been an unfathomable loss of public confidence and morale, as well as of credibility in the nation's economy. Can there ever be a winner? Of course not. It is so very dangerous. There will only be a loser. Each side in the confrontation is a loser." * Through these interventions, the King did not involve himself in the political problems, which should be and were resolved through political mechanisms. Rather, he stopped bloodshed among Thais when state machinery had failed to do so. More recently, concerning Thailand's current political situation resulting from the House dissolution on 24 February 2006 and the General Elections on 2 April 2006, His Majesty, in an address to the Administrative Court judges on 25 April 2005, clarified his role within the constitutional monarchy and provided clear direction for the courts on their responsibility in resolving the issue. Noting whether the situation was relevant to the judges, His Majesty said: “In fact, it should be. The issue of sole candidacy election is important because they will never fulfill the quorum. If the House is not filled by elected candidates, then democracy cannot function. If this is the case, the oaths you have just sworn in would be invalid. That is why everything must be done to enable democracy to move forward. …” Then he asked them “not to neglect democracy – a governing system that enables the country to function.” * Also, in an address to the Supreme Court judges, His Majesty said: "Now, there was an election in order to ensure democracy. But if Parliament lacks a quorum, it is not democratic. … Please consult with one another and with other courts as well. It will help the country be governed by democratic rule. Do not wait for a royally conferred Prime Minister because that would not be democracy." * Regarding public calls for a royally conferred prime minister, His Majesty said: “Article 7 does not empower the King to make a unilateral decision. It talks about the constitutional monarchy but does not give the King power to do anything he wishes. If the King did so, he would overstep his duty. I have never overstepped this duty. Doing so would be undemocratic. … Installing a royally conferred prime minister means appointing a prime minister without regard for any rules.” * * Unofficial translation
Ceremonial Role as Head of State
Symbol of the Nation
Few other Thai faces are as well-known around the world as that of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. His portrait appears on currency, coins, and stamps. His pictures appear in shops and homes throughout the country and abroad as a symbol of the love, respect and loyalty the Thais feel toward their King. His Majesty represents more than the nation; he is the central figure in many of Thailand's interactions with the world. Like any other Monarchs, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej greets Heads of State, receives Letters of Credence from foreign ambassadors, and travels abroad on State Visits. In addition, he presents diplomas at university graduation ceremonies, presents swords to newly-graduated military cadets, and appoints ambassadors and generals.
Traditional Symbols of Thai Kingship
Thai Kings of the Chakri Dynasty (1782-present) have adopted the honorific name of the god-king Rama, recalling an era millenia ago when Kings were regarded as divine. Rama is an avatar of Vishnu, the Preserver of the Hindu trinity, and is the epitome of the righteous ruler. Written 3,000 years ago, the classic tale, the Ramayana (Ramakhien in Thai), relates the trials of this god-king, his virtues shining forth as beacons for his people as he struggles to rescue his abducted wife, Sita-a model of womanly virtue-from the clutches of the demon king, Tosakan. Vishnu's vehicle is the garuda (half man, half bird) which appears as the letterhead on all Royal pronouncements and correspondence. No law is considered enacted until it has been signed by His Majesty and sealed with the image of the garuda. Furthermore, the garuda is used as the emblem of the State.
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej presides over numerous ceremonies, his presence marking the commencement of a major rite or ritual. At the official opening of the National Assembly each year, he is seated behind a curtain. When all is ready, the curtain is drawn aside, revealing His Majesty. He then delivers a short address to the gathered assembly of MPs and Senators, officially marking the start of a new Parliamentary year. The Ploughing Ceremony each May recalls a Monarch's ancient responsibility to make the land fruitful. Since His Majesty has dedicated himself to the same task, he reintroduced this ancient Brahmanic rite in 1960, after a lapse of many decades. The ceremony is designed to induce the gods to aid farmers and to predict the yields in the coming rice season. His Majesty also uses the occasion to recognise and reward the vital role of farmers and to encourage them to try hard. At Sanam Luang, the open Royal Ground just to the north of Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), large oxen pull a ceremonial plough to turn the earth. These same oxen are later offered their choice of four grains. The grain they select is seen as an augur of the success of the coming planting season. Four Celestial Maidens, represented by officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, carry baskets containing rice seeds which the Lord of the Rite, generally represented by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, sows onto the newly-turned earth. Once the ceremony has been completed, farmers are invited to pick them from the soil to plant in their own fields. Their association with Royalty makes the seeds valuable and the signal usually launches a scramble to gather as many as possible. His Majesty also presents awards and certificates to farmers who have produced the highest yields the previous year. His Majesty also presides over the Trooping of the Colours march-past early each December, as part of his Birthday celebrations. In this colourful ceremony, held in the Royal Plaza, soldiers clad in their regimental colours-a veritable rainbow of hues-pass in review before Their Majesties, His Majesty dressed as their Commander in Chief. His annual Birthday Address serves as a summing up of the past year and his hopes for the coming year. His Majesty also presides over a number of important Buddhist rituals.
Royal Barge Procession
Perhaps the most spectacular rite over which His Majesty presides is the Annual Presentation of Kathin Robes ceremony when he presents robes to monks to mark "Ok Phansa". The October rite marks the end of the three-month Rains Retreat (often called Buddhist Lent). One of the grandest processions in Asia, the Phraratchaphithi Phayuha Yatra Cholamak, (Royal Barge Procession) proceeds down the Chao Phraya River bearing the Royal Family in august majesty to Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn). The blaring of conch shells and trumpets, the thumping of stout poles on the decks to mark cadence, and the ancient chants sung by the oarsmen ring across the waters awe the watching crowds to silence. The 52-vessel fleet is propelled by the muscled arms of more than 2,200 oarsmen. The most important barge, Suphannahongs, designed in the shape of a mythical swan, conveys the Royal Family. The hull of the 44.70 metres long, 3.15 metres wide and 90 centimetres high craft is elaborately carved in traditional designs covered in red lacquer and gold. This magnificent procession is rarely staged. Revived in 1961 after a long hiatus, it was again staged in 1968, and 1982 (to mark the bicentennial of Bangkok 's establishment as the nation's capital and concurrently of the present Chakri Dynasty in 1782). In 1987, it was presented to celebrate the fifth cycle (sixtieth Birthday Anniversary) of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in 1996 to celebrate the fiftieth year of his Accession to the Throne, in 1999, and in 2003 when Thailand hosted the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit attended by the world's political and business leaders. This year, spectators are again fortunate to view it on 12 June.