Obituary: HM the King Bhumibol Adulyadej

BANGKOK, 14 October 2016: His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who has died, age 88, was the world’s longest serving monarch and played a pivotal role at the centre of national life and rural development.

HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej  ascended to the throne in 1946.

The young monarch had spent most of his life overseas and at the time of his accession was studying at Lausanne University. He took the title Rama IX as the ninth sovereign of the Chakri dynasty.

insideOver the following seven decades he turned Thailand’s new constitutional monarchy into a resounding success, beacon of hope and inspiration for what was an impoverished nation at the close of World War II.

During years of political turmoil and rapid change, which saw 19 successful, or attempted coups, he was seen as a consistent, selfless example and symbol of national unity.

He developed an extraordinary rapport with ordinary Thais, and would spend all his time travelling to remote areas of the county to spearhead project to raise the standard of living of his subjects. He rarely travelled overseas after a short spell of travel following his coronation, preferring to travel to border areas of his realm to pioneer alternative crop farming to replace the scourge of opium production.   He made a single exception to his decision not to travel beyond Thailand, when in late 1994 he visited Lao PDR to attend the opening of the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge.

Often, foreign ambassadors to Thailand joined him on inspection tours, marvelling at his energy and dedication for projects in some of the most rugged, remote areas of the country that posed both health and security risks.

The projects ranged from farms developing cool climate crops such as strawberries and kiwi fruit, to projects that created new revenue sources for hill country communities such as trout farming  silk or cotton weaving.

Sustainable economy principles were at the heart of the monarch’s vision long before they became trendy concepts elsewhere.

Always the inspiration and catalyst for projects that would benefit the poor, he pioneered development programmes to the poorest provinces and funded many of them from his own private funds. He even turned his hand to water management and the difficult task of tackling floods in the Thai capital and the central region.

The King of Thailand has little direct power under the constitution, but on several occasions he used his considerable personal and moral authority to resolve political crises that threatened national stability.

prayers-for-thai-king-rexfeatures_6242006a-resIn 1992,  when a bloody cycle of pro-democracy protests and military responses seemed about to spiral out of control, he summoned General Suchina Kraprayoon, the leader of the junta, and his principal civilian opponent for a late night audience to broker a peaceful settlement.

Prince Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua Bhumibol Adulyadej was born on 5 December 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Prince Mahidol of Songkla, half-brother and heir of the last absolute monarch of Thailand, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and the younger son of King Chulachomklao (Rama V, reign 1868 to 1910).

The origin of the Chakri dynasty dates back to 1782 when the Thai capital moved to the east bank of the Chao Phraya River and Bangkok (Khrungthep) the city of angels was established.

Prince Bhumibol’s great-grandfather King Mongkut (King Chomklao, reigned 1851 to 1868).

Prince Bhumibol’s father, Prince Mahidol, had married a Siamese commoner and studied to be a doctor. At the time of the birth of Prince Bhumibol, he was studying public health and medicine at Harvard and his wife was studying nursing and economics at Simmons College in the same city.

Prince Bhumibol was the youngest of the family’s three children, having an elder brother and sister.

Prince Mahidol died in 1928, from kidney failure, when his youngest son was a year old, and the family returned to Thailand where, as a young boy, Prince Bhumibol briefly attended Mater Dei Primary School. In 1933, following a military coup, King Prajadhipok ordered the family to move to Lausanne, Switzerland. There the Prince attended the Ecole Miremont and the Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande, Chailly sur Lausanne. Later he enrolled at the Gymnase de Lausanne.

While the family were living in Switzerland, political changes in Thailand started the chain of events that would eventually elevate the young Prince Bhumibol to the throne.

In 1932, following a coup, King Prajadhipok agreed to sign off on a new constitution that would replace Thailand’s absolute monarchy with a constitutional one, and in 1935 he abdicated the throne in favour of his nephew, Prince Ananda, then 10 years old. The two young princes visited Thailand briefly in 1938 to 1939.

They did not return there until late 1945, when Prince Ananda went to Bangkok for his coronation.

In the early morning of 9 June 1946, before the ceremony could be performed, Prince Ananda died in what was officially ruled an accident.

As King Ananda’s brother, Prince Bhumibol was named successor by an Act of Parliament. Two months later, he returned to Switzerland to complete his education.

The young King had planned to become an architect and had enrolled at the University of Lausanne to study engineering. Following his brother’s death, however, he changed his degree studies to Law and Political Science.

In October 1948, King Bhumibol was seriously injured in a motor accident in Lausanne, which left him blind in one eye, forcing a postponement of his coronation.

By the time of his coronation, the King had married Princess Mom Rachawong Sirikit Kitiyakara, a great-granddaughter of a former king.

King Bhumipol had first met Princess Sirikit in Paris, where her father was serving as ambassador. She was 15 years old and training to be a concert pianist. While in hospital recovering from the motor accident, King Bhumibol asked to see her and they soon became engaged.

Their wedding took place, 28 April 1950 and on 5 May  1950, the coronation unfolded at the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall in the Grand Palace. It was the first coronation ceremony of a Thai sovereign to rule under the system of constitutional monarchy.

The royal couple spent their honeymoon at Hua Hin beach, 150 km south of the capital, before they returned to Switzerland, where the King completed his studies. They returned to Thailand in 1951.

In 1956 King Bhumibol followed Thailand’s spiritual tradition of entering the Buddhist monkhood of Sangkha for 15 days to practice meditation. He was ordained by the Supreme Patriarch on 22 October at the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace.

King Bhumibol demonstrated  a keen interest in science and culture. He was an accomplished painter and photographer and was the first member of the Thai royal family to be granted a patent for a simple, but practical invention to aid water treatment, which can still be seen operating in many waterways in Thailand.

He was also a writer and musician, having translated several works of literature into Thai.

In October 2007, the king suffered the symptoms of a minor stroke and the following year he was unable to make his traditional annual birthday speech.

In the remaining years, despite ill health he continued to officiate and conduct royal duties and take a keen interest in hundreds of Royal initiated projects across the country that continue to help to raise the standard of living for thousands of Thai citizens and minority ethnic groups.

He is survived by HM Queen Sirikit and their four children.

He is succeeded to the throne by HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, born 5 December 1927, died 13 October 2016.

(Source; wire services, editorial archives).