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Bhumibol Adulyadej
King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2010.
Preceded by Ananda Mahidol
Succeeded by Maha Vajiralongkorn
Personal details
Born 5 December 1927(1927-12-05) (age 95)
Cambridge, Massachusetts,
United States
Spouse(s) Sirikit Kitiyakara
(Since 28 April 1950)
Religion Theravada Buddhism

Bhumibol Adulyadej (Thai language: ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช; RTGS: Phumiphon Adunyadet; pronounced [pʰuːmípʰōn ʔàdūnjādèːt]; see full title below; born 5 December 1927) is the reigning King of Thailand. He is known as Rama IX. Having reigned since 9 June 1946, he is the world's longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history.[1]

King Bhumibol is respected[2][3] and revered by many Thais.[4] The King is legally considered "inviolable", and lèse majesté, that is, offence against the dignity of the monarch may be punished.[4] In 1957, the overthrow of the government was justified with allegations of lèse majesté.[5][6] Although Bhumibol invited public criticism in a 2005 speech,[7] politicians and individuals are still being arrested, though most are pardoned.[citation needed]

Bhumibol is credited with a social-economic theory of self-sufficiency. Forbes estimated Bhumibol's personal fortune, including property managed by the Crown Property Bureau which is considered national property,[8] to be US$30 billion in 2010, and he has been consistently placed at number one of the magazine's list of "The World's Richest Royals".[9][10] This estimation includes land ownership which the royal family says it does not own. The Crown Property Bureau spends money on public welfare such as youth development, however it does not pay taxes and its finances are reported only to Bhumibol.[11] Bhumibol himself has made donations to numerous development projects in Thailand, in areas including agriculture, environment, public health, occupational promotion, water resources, communications and public welfare.[12] Commemorations of Bhumibol's contributions to Thailand are ubiquitous in the Thai media.[13]

Early life

Bhumibol (centre) with his mother and siblings Ananda Mahidol (left) and Galyani Vadhana (right).

He was born at the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States on 5 December 1927.[14] He was the younger son of HRH Prince Mahidol Adulyadej and Mom Sangwan (later HRH Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother: Somdet Phra Si Nakharinthra Boromaratchachonnani). His name, Bhumibol Adulyadej, means "Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power".[15] His father was enrolled in the Public Health program at Harvard University, hence his unusual place of birth for a monarch.

Bhumibol came to Thailand in 1928, after Prince Mahidol obtained a certificate from Harvard. He briefly attended Mater Dei school in Bangkok but in 1933 his mother took the family to Switzerland, where he continued his education at the Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande in Lausanne. He received the baccalauréat des lettres (high-school diploma with major in French literature, Latin, and Greek) from the Gymnase Classique Cantonal of Lausanne, and by 1945 had begun studying science at the University of Lausanne, when World War II ended and the family returned to Thailand.[16]

Succession and marriage

File:Bhumbol and Sirikit.jpg

Bhumibol and Sirikit after their wedding.

Bhumibol ascended the throne following the death by gunshot wound of his brother, King Ananda Mahidol, on 9 June 1946, under circumstances that remain unclear.[17] Public discussion of the regicide remains taboo to this day, and probing can lead to accusations of lèse majesté. Bhumibol returned immediately to Switzerland, continuing his education in law and political science. His uncle, Rangsit, Prince of Chainat, was appointed Prince Regent. While in Switzerland, Bhumibol authorized a military coup that overthrew the government of Luang Thamrong Navasawat and ushered in 30 years of uninterrupted military dictatorship. He also authorized the 1949 constitution, which gave back to the monarchy almost all of its powers that were taken away by the 1932 Revolution.[18]

While finishing his degree in Switzerland, Bhumibol visited Paris frequently. It was in Paris that he first met Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara, daughter of the Thai ambassador to France.[19]

On 4 October 1948, while Bhumibol was driving a Fiat Topolino on the Geneva-Lausanne road, he collided with the rear of a braking truck 10 km outside of Lausanne. He hurt his back and incurred cuts on his face that cost him the sight of his right eye.[20][21] While he was hospitalised in Lausanne, Sirikit visited him frequently. She met his mother, who asked her to continue her studies nearby so that Bhumibol could get to know her better. Bhumibol selected for her a boarding school in Lausanne, Riante Rive. A quiet engagement in Lausanne followed on 19 July 1949, and the couple were married on 28 April 1950, just a week before his coronation.

Bhumibol and his wife Queen Sirikit have four children:

  • (Formerly HRH) Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, born 5 April 1951 in Lausanne, Switzerland; married Peter Ladd Jensen, has 2 daughters. Her autistic son, Bhumi Jensen, was killed in the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.[22][23]
  • HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, born 28 July 1952; married Mom Luang Soamsawali Kitiyakara (later divorced and became HRH the Princess Niece); 1 daughter. Then married Yuvadhida Polpraserth; 4 sons and a daughter. Third marriage was to Srirasm Akharapongpreecha; one son.
  • HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, born 2 April 1955; unmarried
  • HRH Princess Chulabhorn Walailak, born 4 July 1957; married Virayudh Tishyasarin, (then divorced); 2 daughters

Coronation and titles

Bhumibol at his coronation at the Grand Palace.

Bhumibol addresses a joint session of the United States Congress in 1960

Bhumibol was crowned King of Thailand on 5 May 1950 at the Royal Palace in Bangkok where he pledged that he would "reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people" ("เราจะครองแผ่นดินโดยธรรม เพื่อประโยชน์สุขแห่งมหาชนชาวสยาม").[24] Notable elements associated with the coronation included the Bahadrabith Throne beneath the Great White Umbrella of State; and he was presented with the royal regalia and utensils.[25]

In 1950 on Coronation Day, Bhumibol's consort was made Queen (Somdej Phra Boromarajini). The date of his coronation is celebrated each 5 May in Thailand as Coronation Day, a public holiday. On 9 June 2006, Bhumibol celebrated his 60th anniversary as the King of Thailand, becoming the longest reigning monarch in Thai history.

Following the death of his grandmother Queen Savang Vadhana, Bhumibol entered a 15-day monkhood (22 October 1956 – 5 November 1956) at Wat Bowonniwet, as is customary for Buddhist males on the death of elder relatives.[26] During this time, Sirikit was appointed his regent. She was later appointed Queen Regent (Somdej Phra Boromarajininat) in recognition of this.

Although Bhumibol is sometimes referred to as King Rama IX in English, Thais refer to him as Nai Luang or Phra Chao Yu Hua (ในหลวง or พระเจ้าอยู่หัว: both mean "the King" or "Lord Upon our Heads"). He is also called Chao Chiwit ("Lord of Life").[27] Formally, he would be referred to as Phrabat Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua (พระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัว) or, in legal documents, Phrabat Somdet Phra Paraminthara Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej (พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรมินทรมหาภูมิพลอดุลยเดช), and in English as His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He signs his name as ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช ป.ร. (Bhumibol Adulyadej Por Ror; this is the Thai equivalent of Bhumibol Adulyadej R[ex]).

Role in Thai politics

Plaek Pibulsonggram era


Marshal and Mrs. Pibulsonggram with Eleanor Roosevelt

In the early years of his reign, during the government of military dictator Plaek Pibulsonggram, Bhumibol had no real power and was little more than a ceremonial figure under the military-dominated government. In August 1957, six months after parliamentary elections, General Sarit Dhanarajata accused the government of Field Marshal Pibulsonggram of lèse majesté due to its conduct of the 2,500th anniversary celebration of Buddhism.[6][28] On 16 September 1957, Pibulsonggram went to Bhumibol to seek support for his government.[29] Bhumibol told the Field Marshal to resign to avoid a coup; Pibulsonggram refused. That evening, Sarit Dhanarajata seized power, and two hours later Bhumibol imposed martial law throughout the Kingdom.[30] Bhumibol issued a Proclamation appointing Sarit as "Military Defender of the Capital" without anyone countersigning this Proclamation. It included the following statements:[31]

Whereas it appears that the public administration by the government under the premiership of Field Marshal P. Phibunsonggram is untrustworthy, and that the government could not maintain the public order; and whereas the military, led by Field Marshal Sarit Dhanarajata, has successfully taken over the public administration and now acts as the Military Defender of the Capital; Now, therefore, I do hereby appoint Field Marshal Sarit Dhanarajata as the Military Defender of the Capital, and command that all the citizens shall remain calm whilst all the government officers shall serve the orders issued by Field Marshal Sarit Dhanarajat. This Proclamation shall come into force immediately. Done this 16th Day of September, Buddhist Era 2500 (1957).

Sarit Dhanarajata era

During Sarit's dictatorship, the monarchy was revitalised. Bhumibol attended public ceremonies, toured the provinces and patronised development projects. Under Sarit, the practice of crawling in front of royalty during audiences, banned by King Chulalongkorn, was revived in certain situations and the royal-sponsored Thammayut Nikaya order was revitalised. For the first time since the absolute monarchy was overthrown, a king was conveyed up the Chao Phraya River in a Royal Barge Procession to offer robes at temples.[32][33]

Other disused ceremonies from the classical period of the Chakri Dynasty, such as the royally-patronised ploughing ceremony (Thai: พิธีพืชมงคล), were also revived.[34] Bhumibol's birthday (5 December) was declared the national day, replacing the previous national day, the anniversary of the Siamese Revolution of 1932 (24 June).[35] Upon Sarit's death in 8 December 1963, an unprecedented 21 days of mourning were declared in the palace. A royal five-tier umbrella shaded his body while it lay in state. Long-time royal adviser Phraya Srivisarn Vacha later noted that no Prime Minister ever had such an intimate relationship with Bhumibol as Sarit.[36]

Contemporary thinkers differ in their views about the relationship between Bhumibol and Sarit. Paul Handley, writer of The King Never Smiles, views Sarit as Bhumibol's tool, whereas political scientist Thak Chaloemtiarana asserts that Sarit used Bhumibol in order to build his own credibility.[37][38]

Prem Tinsulanond era

The ensuing chaos was used as a pretext for a military coup. The junta submitted three names to the king to choose from to become the next Premier: Deputy President of the king's Privy Council Prakob Hutasingh, right-wing Bangkok Governor Thamnoon Thien-ngern and conservative Supreme Court judge Thanin Kraivixien.[39] Bhumibol chose Thanin as the most suitable. However, Thanin proved to be very right-wing himself, causing student protesters to flee to join the communists in the jungle. Thanin was himself overthrown in a military coup in October 1977 led by General Kriangsak Chomanan. Kriangsak was succeeded in 1980 by the popular Army Commander-in-Chief, General Prem Tinsulanond, later the Privy Council President.

Bhumibol's refusal to endorse military coups in 1981 (the April Fool's Day coup) and 1985 (the Share Rebellion) ultimately led to the victory of forces loyal to the government, despite some violence – including in 1981, the seizure of Bangkok by rebel forces. The coups led many to believe that Bhumibol had misjudged Thai society and that his credibility as an impartial mediator between various political and military factions had been compromised.[40][41][42]

Crisis of 1992

File:Black May Thailand.jpg

Royal intervention on the night of 20 May. Chamlong Srimuang (left) and Suchinda Kraprayoon (middle) submit to the King (seated).

In 1992, Bhumibol played a key role in Thailand's transition to a democratic system. A coup on 23 February 1991 returned Thailand back under military dictatorship. After a general election in 1992, the majority parties invited General Suchinda Kraprayoon, a leader of the coup group, to be the Prime Minister. This caused much dissent, which escalated into demonstrations that led to a large number of deaths when the military was brought in to control the protesters. The situation became increasingly critical as police and military forces clashed with the protesters. Violence and riots spread out in many areas of the capital with rumours of a rift among the armed forces.[43]

Amidst the fear of civil war, Bhumibol intervened. He summoned Suchinda and the leader of the pro-democracy movement, retired Major General Chamlong Srimuang, to a televised audience, and urged them to find a peaceful resolution. At the height of the crisis, the sight of both men appearing together on their knees (in accordance with royal protocol) made a strong impression on the nation, and led to Suchinda's resignation soon afterwards.

It was one of the few occasions in which Bhumibol directly and publicly intervened in a political conflict. A general election was held shortly afterward, leading to a civilian government.[44]

With then President Vladimir Putin in Bangkok on 22 October 2003.

2003 War on Drugs

In his 4 December 2002 speech on the eve of his birthday, King Bhumibol spoke about the rise in drug use, the high social costs and deaths caused by drugs, and called for a "War on Drugs."[45] Privy Councillor General Phichit Kunlawanit called on the Thaksin Shinawatra government to use its majority in parliament to establish a special court to deal with drug dealers, stating that “if we execute 60,000 the land will rise and our descendants will escape bad karma”.[46]

On 14 January 2003, Thaksin launched a campaign to rid "every square inch of the country" of drugs.[47] His War on Drugs campaign consisted of setting provincial arrest and seizure targets including "blacklists", awarding government officials for achieving targets and threatening punishment for those who failed to make the quota, targeting dealers, and "ruthless" implementation. In the first three months, Human Rights Watch reported that 2,275 people were killed, almost double the number normally killed in drug-related violence.[48] Human rights critics claimed a large number were extrajudicially executed.[49][50] The War on Drugs was widely criticized by the international community.[51]

According to the Narcotics Control Board, the campaign was effective in reducing drug consumption, especially in schools.[52] The War on Drugs was one of the most popular policies of the Thaksin government[citation needed]. Bhumibol, in a 2003 birthday speech, praised Thaksin and criticized those who counted only dead drug dealers while ignoring deaths caused by drugs.[53]

"Victory in the War on Drugs is good. They may blame the crackdown for more than 2,500 deaths, but this is a small price to pay. If the prime minister failed to curb [the drug trade], over the years the number of deaths would easily surpass this toll."[54]

Bhumibol also asked the commander of the police to investigate the killings.[55] Police Commander Sant Sarutanond reopened investigations into the deaths, and again claimed that few of the deaths were at the hands of the police.

After the 2006 coup, the military junta appointed a committee led by former Attorney General Kanit Na Nakorn to investigate deaths in the War on Drugs.[56] The committee found that over half of those killed in 2003 had no links to the drugs trade and blamed the violence on a government “shoot-to-kill” policy based on flawed blacklists. However, no one has been prosecuted, with interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont stating that there was insufficient evidence to take legal action.[57]

While he was opposition leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva accused Thaksin of crimes against humanity for the War on Drugs. After he became Prime Minister, Abhisit opened an investigation led by former attorney-general Kampee Kaewcharoen, claiming that a successful probe could lead to prosecution by the International Criminal Court.[48][58][59] As of the August 2011 parliamentary elections, Abhisit's investigation failed to find or publicize any evidence linking Thaksin or members of his Government to any extrajudicial killings.

Crisis of 2005–2006 and the September 2006 coup

Background to the coup

Weeks before the April 2006 legislative election, the Democrat Party-led opposition and the People's Alliance for Democracy petitioned Bhumibol to appoint a replacement prime minister and cabinet. Demands for royal intervention met with much criticism from the public. Bhumibol, in a speech on 26 April 2006, responded, "Asking for a Royally-appointed prime minister is undemocratic. It is, pardon me, a mess. It is irrational".[60]

After publicly claiming victory in the boycotted April parliamentary elections, Thaksin Shinawatra had a private audience with the king. A few hours later, Thaksin appeared on national television to announce that he would be taking a break from politics.

In May 2006, the Sondhi Limthongkul-owned Manager Daily newspaper published a series of articles describing the "Finland Plot", alleging that Thaksin and former members of the Communist Party of Thailand planned to overthrow the king and seize control of the nation. No evidence was ever produced to verify the existence of such a plot, and Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party vehemently denied the accusations and sued the accusers.

In a rare, televised speech to senior judges, Bhumibol requested the judiciary to take action to resolve the political crisis.[60] On 8 May 2006, the Constitutional Court invalidated the results of the April elections and ordered new elections scheduled for 15 October 2006.[61] The Criminal Court later jailed the Election Commissioners.[62][63]

On 14 July 2006, Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda addressed graduating cadets of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, telling them that the Thai military must serve the King – not the Government.[64]

On 20 July, Bhumibol signed a royal decree endorsing new House elections for 15 October 2006. In an unprecedented act, the King wrote a note on the royal decree calling for a clean and fair election. That very day, Bhumibol underwent spinal surgery.[65]

The coup

In the evening of 19 September, the Thai military overthrew the Thaksin government and seized control of Bangkok in a bloodless coup. The junta, led by the Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Commander of the Army, called itself the Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy, accused the deposed prime minister and his regime of many crimes, including lèse majesté, and pledged its loyalty to Bhumibol. Martial law was declared, the Constitution repealed and the October elections cancelled. Protests and political meetings were banned.[66]

The King's role in the coup was the subject of much speculation among Thai analysts and the international media, although publication of such speculation was banned in Thailand. The King had an audience with Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda at the same time as the First Special Forces were ordered mobilised.[67] Anti-coup protesters claimed that Prem was a key mastermind of the coup, although the military claimed otherwise and banned any discussion of the topic. In a BBC interview, Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University noted, "This coup was nothing short of Thaksin versus the King... He is widely seen as having implicitly endorsed the coup." In the same interview, social critic Sulak Sivaraksa claimed, "Without his involvement, the coup would have been impossible." Sulak added that the King is "very skillful. He never becomes obviously involved. If this coup goes wrong, Sonthi will get the blame, but whatever happens, the King will only get praise."[68] On Saturday 23 September 2006, the junta warned they would "urgently retaliate against foreign reporters whose coverage has been deemed insulting to the monarchy."[69] The President of Bhumibol's Privy Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda, supported the coup. The junta later appointed Privy Council member General Surayud Chulanont as Prime Minister.[citation needed]

On 20 April 2009, Thaksin claimed in an interview with the Financial Times that Bhumibol had been briefed by Privy Councillors Prem Tinsulanonda and Surayud Chulanont about their plans to stage the 2006 coup. He claimed that General Panlop Pinmanee, a leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy, had told him of the briefing.[70][71] The Thai embassy in London denied Thaksin's claims.

After the coup

The junta appointed a Constitutional Tribunal to rule on the alleged poll fraud cases concerning the Thai Rak Thai and Democrat political parties. Guilty rulings would have dissolved both parties, Thailand's largest and oldest, respectively, and banned the parties' leadership from politics for five years. The weeks leading up to the verdicts saw rising political tensions. On 24 May 2007, about a week before the scheduled verdict, Bhumibol gave a rare speech to the Supreme Administrative Court (the President of which is also a member of the Constitutional Tribunal). "You have the responsibility to prevent the country from collapsing," he warned them in the speech, which was shown on all national television channels simultaneously during the evening. “The nation needs political parties.... In my mind, I have a judgment but I cannot say," he said. "Either way the ruling goes, it will be bad for the country, there will be mistakes."[72][73][74] The Tribunal later acquitted the Democrat Party but dissolved the Thai Rak Thai party and banned 111 of its executives from politics for five years.

The junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Assembly later tried to use the King in a propaganda campaign to increase public support for its widely criticised draft constitution. The CDA placed billboards saying, "Love the King. Care about the King. Vote in the referendum." throughout the Northeast of Thailand, where opposition to the junta was greatest.[75]

2008 crisis and ill health

The military's constitution passed the referendum, and a general election was held in December 2007. The People's Power Party, consisting of many former Thai Rak Thai Party MPs and supporters, won the majority and formed a government.[76] The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) refused to accept the election results and started protests, eventually laying siege to Government House, Don Muang Airport, and Suvarnabhumi Airport. Although the PAD claimed they were defending the monarchy, Bhumibol remained silent. However, after a PAD supporter died in a clash with police, Queen Sirikit presided over her cremation. Princess Sirindhorn, when asked at a US press conference whether the PAD was acting on behalf of the monarchy, replied, "I don't think so. They do things for themselves."[77] Questioning and criticism over Bhumibol's role in the crisis increased, particularly from the international press.[78][79][80][81][82][83][84] “It is more and more difficult for them to hold the illusion that the monarchy is universally adored,” says a Thai academic.[85]

In April 2008, Bhumibol appointed alleged coup plotter General Surayud Chulanont to the Privy Council of Thailand. In the weeks leading up to the 2011 general election, Bhumibol appointed Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pukbhasuk, a leader of the 2006 military coup, to his Privy Council.[86]

Bhumibol was admitted to Siriraj Hospital in September 2009 for flu and pneumonia.[87] Rumors about his ill-health caused Thai financial markets to tumble in October 2009.[88] He was discharged from Siriraj Hospital to travel to his palace at Hua Hin on 2 August 2013.[89]

Royal powers

Constitutional powers

Bhumibol in a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, 18 November 2012

For a historical perspective on how Bhumibol's constitutional powers have changed over time, see the Constitutions of Thailand article

Bhumibol retains enormous powers, partly because of his immense popularity and partly because his powers – although clearly defined in the Thai constitution – are often subject to conflicting interpretations. This was highlighted by the controversy surrounding the appointment of Jaruvan Maintaka as Auditor-General. Jaruvan had been appointed by The State Audit Commission. However, the Constitutional Court ruled in July 2004 that her appointment was unconstitutional. Jaruvan refused to vacate her office without an explicit order from Bhumibol, on the grounds that she had previously been royally approved. When the Senate elected a replacement for Jaruvan, Bhumibol refused to approve him.[90] The Senate declined to vote to override Bhumibol's veto.[91] Finally in February 2006 the Audit Commission reinstated Jaruvan when it became clear from a memo from the Office of the King's Principal Private Secretary that King Bhumibol supported her appointment.

Bhumibol has vetoed legislation very rarely. In 1976, when the Parliament voted 149–19 to extend democratic elections down to district levels, Bhumibol refused to sign the law.[92] The Parliament refused to vote to overturn the King's veto. In 1954, Bhumibol vetoed parliamentary-approved land reform legislation twice before consenting to sign it.[93] The law limited the maximum land an individual could hold to 50 rai (80,000 square metres (860,000 sq ft)), at a time when the Crown Property Bureau was the Kingdom's largest land-owner. The law was not enforced as General Sarit soon overthrew the elected government in a coup and repealed the law.

Bhumibol has the constitutional prerogative to pardon criminals, although there are several criteria for receiving a pardon, including age and remaining sentence. The 2006 pardoning of several convicted child rapists, including an Australian rapist and child pornographer, caused controversy.[94][95][96] However under the Thailand Constitution, the King has the prerogative to grant a pardon and all laws, Royal Rescripts and Royal Commands relating to State affairs must be countersigned by a Minister unless otherwise provided in this Constitution. The pardon list is created and proposed by the government official, which was under the Shinawatra's 2006 government.

Network monarchy and extraconstitutional powers

City decoration in observance of King Bhumibol's birthday in Phitsanulok, Thailand

Several academics outside of Thailand, including Duncan McCargo and Federico Ferrara have noted the active political involvement of Bhumibol through a "network monarchy," whose most significant proxy is Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanond. McCargo claimed that Bhumibol's conservative network worked behind the scenes to establish political influence in the 1990s, but was threatened by the landslide election victories of Thaksin Shinawatra in 2001 and 2005.[97] Ferrara claimed, shortly before the Thai Supreme Court delivered its verdict to seize Thaksin Shinawatra's assets, that the judiciary was a well-established part of Bhumibol's network and represented his main avenue to exercise extra-constitutional prerogatives despite having the appearance of being constitutional. He also noted how, in comparison to the Constitutional Court's 2001 acquittal of Thaksin, the judiciary was a much more important part of the "network" than it was in the past.[98]

The network's ability to exercise power is based partly on Bhumibol's popularity and strict control of Bhumibol's popular image. According to Jost Pachaly of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Bhumibol "plays an important role behind the scenes. But the role is difficult to assess because nothing is reported about it and no one really knows anything specific," due to lese majeste laws forbidding discussion about Bhumibol's political activities.[99] Bhumibol's popularity was demonstrated following the 2003 Phnom Penh riots in Cambodia, when hundreds of Thai protesters, enraged by rumors that Cambodian rioters had stomped on photographs of Bhumibol, gathered outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok. Photographs of the stomping were not published in Thailand, but were available on the internet. The situation was resolved peacefully only when Police General Sant Sarutanonda told the crowd that he had received a call from royal secretary Arsa Sarasin conveying Bhumibol's request for calm. The crowd dispersed.[100]

Royal projects


Bhumibol Dam

"The development of the country must be fostered in stages. It must start with the construction of infrastructure, that is, the provision of food and basic necessities for the people by methods which are economic, cautious and conforming with principles. Once the foundation is firmly established, progress can be continually, carefully and economically promoted. This approach will prevent incurring mistakes and failures, and lead to the certain and complete achievement of the objectives."

—Bhumibol's speech at Kasetsart University Commencement Ceremony on 19 July 1974.[101]

Bhumibol has been involved in many social and economic development projects. The nature of his involvement has varied by political regime.[102]

The government of Plaek Pibulsonggram (1951–1957) limited Bhumibol to a ceremonial role. During that period Bhumibol produced some films and operated a radio station from Chitlada Palace using his own personal funds.

In the military governments of Sarit Dhanarajata and his successors (1958–1980), Bhumibol was re-portrayed as the "Development King" and the inspiration of the economic and political goals of the regime. Royally-ordered projects were implemented under the financial and political support of the government, including projects in rural areas and communities under the influence of the Communist Party of Thailand. Bhumibol's visits to these projects were heavily promoted by the Sarit government and broadcast on the state-controlled media.

During the governments of General Prem Tinsulanond (1981–1987), the relationship between the Thai state and the monarch was at its closest. Prem, later to become President of Bhumibol's Privy Council, officially allocated government budgets and manpower to support royal projects. Most activities in this period involved the development of large scale irrigation projects in rural areas.

During the modern period (post-1988), the structured development of the Royal Projects reached its apex. Bhumibol's Chaipattana Foundation was established, promoting his "sufficiency economy" theory, an alternative to the export-oriented policies adopted by the period's elected governments. Following the 2006 coup, establishment of a "sufficiency economy" was enshrined in the constitution as being a primary goal of the government, and government financial support for royal projects boomed.

Example projects

  • Rama VIII Bridge. Suggested by Bhumibol, funded by the government
  • Huai Ongkod land reform project, Kanchanaburi province. Suggested by Bhumibol, using government-owned land.
  • Royal Medical Team. Bhumibol's private physicians accompanying him on village tours were encouraged to provide medical care for local residents. In addition, the Royal Household sends letters of support to physicians who volunteer to serve in hospitals in provinces where royal palaces are situated.[103]

60th Anniversary celebrations

Also called the Diamond Jubilee, the 60th Anniversary Celebrations of His Majesty the King's Accession to the Throne were a series of events marking Bhumibol's reign. Events included the royal barge procession on the Chao Phraya River, fireworks displays, art exhibitions, pardoning 25,000 prisoners,[104] concerts and dance performances.

Tied in with the anniversary, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented Bhumibol with the United Nations Development Programme's first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award on 26 May 2006. National holidays were on 9 June and 12–13 June 2006. On 9 June, the King and Queen appeared on the balcony of Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall before hundreds of thousands of people. The official royal barge procession on 12 June was attended by the King and Queen and royal visitors from 26 other countries. On 13 June, a state banquet for the royal visitors was held in the newly constructed Rama IX Throne Hall at the Grand Palace, the first official function for the hall. The Chiang Mai Royal Flora Expo was also held to honour the anniversary.

On 16 January 2007, the CDRM officially declared the end of the 60th anniversary celebrations and commenced year-long celebrations of Bhumibol's 80th birthday.[105]

Private life

Bhumibol is a painter, musician, photographer, author and translator. His book Phra Mahachanok is based on a traditional Jataka story of Buddhist scripture. The Story of Thong Daeng is the story of his dog Thong Daeng.[106]

In his youth, Bhumibol was greatly interested in firearms. He kept a carbine, a Sten gun and two automatic pistols in his bedroom, and he and his elder brother, King Ananda Mahidol, often used the gardens of the palace for target practice.[107]

There are two English language books that provide extensive detail — albeit not always verifiable — about Bhumibol's life, especially his early years and then throughout his entire reign. One is The Revolutionary King by William Stevenson, the other is The King Never Smiles by Paul M. Handley. A third and earlier work, The Devil's Discus, is also available in Thai and English. All three books are banned in Thailand.

Bhumibol's creativity in, among other things, music, art and invention, was the focus of a 2-minute long documentary created by the government of Abhibisit Vejjajiva that was screened at all branches of the Major Cineplex Group and SF Cinema City, the two largest cinema chains in Thailand.[108]


Bhumibol suffers from lumbar spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the canal that contains the spinal cord and nerve roots, which results in back and leg pain and numbness in the legs. He received a microsurgical decompression in July 2006.[109][110]

Bhumibol was taken to Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital on 13 October 2007, complaining he felt weak down his right side; doctors later found out through scans that he had a blood shortage to his brain.[111] He was discharged on 7 November 2007.[112]

On 19 September 2009, he was once again admitted to Siriraj Hospital, apparently with the flu and pneumonia. U.S. diplomatic cables from 2009, published by WikiLeaks in 2011, reported that the king had been suffering from Parkinson's disease and depression.[113] His youngest daughter HRH Princess Chulabhorn Walailak confirmed in an April 2011 television interview that the king remains in the hospital.[114]

On 17 November 2011, Bhumibol was diagnosed with diverticulitis while being confined in Siriraj Hospital. He is also forced to remain in fast until the disease is cured, the Bureau of the Royal Household announced.[115] He received further treatment for the condition in January 2012. The monarch suffered minute subdural bleeding in his left frontal area which after medication subsided, palatial sources announced on 13 July 2012.[116]


Bhumibol is an accomplished jazz musician and composer, particularly for his works on the alto saxophone. He was the first Asian composer awarded honorary membership of the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Vienna at the age of 32.[117] He used to play jazz music on air on the Or Sor radio station. In his travels, he has played with such jazz legends as Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, Lionel Hampton, Maynard Ferguson, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band. His songs can often be heard at social gatherings and concerts. In 2003, the University of North Texas College of Music awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in Music. The king's abilities as a jazz musician were mentioned by Aunt Jenny (Imogene Coca) in an episode of The Brady Bunch titled "Jan's Aunt Jenny", which originally aired on 21 January 1972.[118]


Bhumibol is an accomplished sailor and sailboat designer.[119] He won a gold medal for sailing in the Fourth Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games in 1967, together with HRH Princess Ubol Ratana whom he tied for points.[120] This accomplishment is all the more remarkable given Bhumibol's lack of binocular depth perception. Bhumibol has also sailed the Gulf of Thailand from Hua Hin to Toey Harbour in Sattahip, covering 60 nautical miles (110 km) in a 14-hour journey on the "Vega 1," an OK Class dinghy he built.[107]

Like his father, a former military naval engineer, Bhumibol was an avid boat designer and builder. He produced several small sail-boat designs in the International Enterprise, OK, and Moth Classes. His designs in the Moth class include the “Mod,” “Super Mod,” and “Micro Mod.”[121]


Bhumibol is the only Thai monarch to hold a patent.[122][123] He obtained one in 1993 for a waste water aerator named "Chai Pattana", and several patents on rainmaking since 1955: the "sandwich" rainmaking patent in 1999 and lately the "supersandwich" patent in 2003.[124][125][126]


Estimates of the post-devaluation (circa 1997–1998) wealth of the royal household range from US$10 billion to $20 billion.[127] In August 2008, Forbes came out with its 2008 version of The World's Richest Royals. King Bhumibol took first place on the list with an estimated wealth of $35 billion.[128] A few days later the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand issued a statement that the Forbes report erred in attributing wealth owned by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) solely to Bhumibol.[129] In the 2009 version of its list, Forbes acknowledged the government's objections, but justified the continued inclusion of the CPB's assets on the ground that Bhumibol was its trustee.[9] The 2009 estimate was down to $30 billion due to declines in real estate and stocks.[9]

The wealth and properties of Bhumibol and the royal family are managed by the Crown Property Bureau and the Privy Purse. The CPB was established by law but is managed independently of the Thai Government and reports only to Bhumibol.[107][130]

Through the CPB, Bhumibol and the royal family own land and equity in many companies and massive amounts of land, including 3,493 acres in Bangkok.[131] The CPB is the majority shareholder of Siam Cement (the largest Thai industrial conglomerate), Christiani & Nielsen (one of the largest Thai construction firms), Deves Insurance (which holds a monopoly on government property insurance and contract insurance), Siam Commercial Bank (one of the largest Thai banks), and Shin Corporation (a major Thai telecommunications firm, through the CPB's holdings in Siam Commercial Bank). The CPB also rents or leases about 36,000 properties to third parties, including the sites of the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok, the Suan Lum Night Bazaar, Siam Paragon and the Central World Tower. The CPB spearheaded a plan to turn Bangkok’s historical Rajadamnoen Avenue into a shopping street known as the “Champs-Élysées of Asia” and in 2007, shocked longtime residents of traditional marketplace districts by serving them with eviction notices.[132] Bhumibol's substantial income from the CPB, estimated to be at least five billion baht in 2004 alone, is exempt from taxes.[132][133] The CPB receives many state privileges. Although the Ministry of Finance technically runs the CPB, decisions are made solely by Bhumibol. The CPB's annual report is for the eye of Bhumibol alone; the annual report is not released to the public.[132]

In addition, Bhumibol has numerous personal investments independent of the CPB. He is personally the majority shareholder of the Thai Insurance Company and Sammakorn, as well as many other companies.[134] He currently holds 30% in Siam Cement,[135] and 20% in the Siam Commercial Bank.[136]

The CPB has a fleet of three aircraft for the use of the royal family, including a Boeing 737-800 and an Airbus A319. The newer Airbus had been purchased by the Thaksin Shinawatra government for government use, but after the 2006 coup, the junta offered it to the king. The other planes are used by members of the royal family.[137]

Among other vehicles, Bhumibol owns two custom-built stretch limousines from LCW Automotive Corp.[138] The Golden Jubilee Diamond, the largest faceted diamond in the world, was given to him by businessman Henry Ho.

Lèse majesté

Although Bhumibol is held in great respect by many Thais,[4] he is also protected by lèse majesté laws which allow critics to be jailed for three to fifteen years.[139] The laws were toughened during the dictatorship of royalist Premier Tanin Kraivixien, such that criticism of any member of the royal family, the royal development projects, the royal institution, the Chakri Dynasty or any previous Thai king was also banned.

During his 2005 birthday speech, Bhumibol invited criticism: "Actually, I must also be criticised. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the king cannot be criticised, it means that the king is not human", he claimed. "If the king can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him because the king is not being treated as a human being. But the king can do wrong."[7] A widespread barrage of criticisms resulted, followed by a sharp rise in lèse majesté prosecutions. Lèse majesté cases rose from five or six a year pre-2005 to 478 in 2010.[140]


American journalist Paul Handley, who spent thirteen years in Thailand, wrote the biography The King Never Smiles. The Information and Communications Ministry banned the book and blocked the book's page on the Yale University Press website in January 2006. In a statement dated 19 January 2006, Thai National Police Chief General Kowit Wattana said the book has "contents which could affect national security and the good morality of the people."[141] The book provides a detailed discussion of Bhumibol's role in Thai political history and also analyzes the factors behind Bhumibol's popularity.

William Stevenson, who had access to the Royal Court and the Royal Family, wrote the biography The Revolutionary King in 2001.[142] An article in Time says the idea for the book was suggested by Bhumibol.[143] Critics noted that the book displays intimate knowledge about personal aspects of Bhumibol. However, the book has been unofficially banned in Thailand and the Bureau of the Royal Household warned the Thai media about even referring to it in print. An official ban was not possible as it was written with Bhumibol's blessing. The book has been criticised for factual inaccuracies, disrespecting Bhumibol (it refers to him by his personal nickname "Lek"), and proposing a controversial theory explaining the death of King Ananda. Stevenson said, "The king said from the beginning the book would be dangerous for him and for me."[143]

Succession to the throne

The King's royal cypher and personal flag.

Bhumibol's only son, Prince Vajiralongkorn, was given the title "Somdej Phra Boroma Orasadhiraj Chao Fah Maha Vajiralongkorn Sayam Makutrajakuman" (Crown Prince of Siam) on 28 December 1972 and made heir apparent (องค์รัชทายาท) to the throne in accordance with the Palace Law on Succession of 1924.[144]

On 5 December 1977, Princess Sirindhorn was given the title "Siam Boromrajakumari" (Princess Royal of Siam). Her title is often translated by the English-language press as "Crown Princess", although her official English-language title is simply "Princess".[145]

Although the constitution was later amended to allow the Privy Council to appoint a princess as successor to the throne, this would only occur in the absence of an heir apparent. This amendment is retained in Section 23 of the 1997 "People's Constitution." This effectively allowed Princess Sirindhorn to potentially be second in line to the throne, but did not affect Prince Vajiralongkorn's status as heir apparent.

Recent constitutions of Thailand have made the amendment of the Palace Law of Succession the sole prerogative of the reigning king. According to Assoc. Prof. Gothom Arya, former election commissioner, this allows the reigning king, if he so chooses, to appoint his son or any of his daughters to the throne.[146]

Titles and styles

Styles of
King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Rama IX of Thailand
King's Standard of Thailand.svg
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sir
  • 5 December 1927 – 1927:His Serene Highness Mom Chao (prince) Bhumibol Adulyadej
  • 1927 – 10 July 1935: His Royal Highness Prince Bhumibol Adulyadj
  • 10 July 1935 – 9 June 1946: His Royal Highness Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej
  • 9 June 1946 – present: His Majesty The King

King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Thai full title is "Phra Bat Somdet Phra Paraminthra Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej Mahitalathibet Ramathibodi Chakkrinaruebodin Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatthabophit" (Thai language: พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรมินทรมหาภูมิพลอดุลยเดช มหิตลาธิเบศรรามาธิบดี จักรีนฤบดินทร สยามินทราธิราช บรมนาถบพิตร; About this sound listen ), which is referred to in the chief legal documents; and in general documents, the title is shorthened to "Phra Bat Somdet Phra Paraminthra Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatthabophit" or just "Phra Bat Somdet Phra Paraminthra Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej."

The literal translation of the title is as follows:[147]

  • Phra—a third person pronoun referring to the person with much higher status than the speaker, meaning "excellent" in general. The word is from Sanskrit vara ("excellent").
  • Bat—"foot," from Sanskrit pāda.
  • Somdet—"lord," from Khmer samdech ("excellency").
  • Paraminthra—"the great," from Sanskrit parama ("great") + indra ("leader")
  • Maha—"great," from Sanskrit, maha
  • Bhumibol—"Strength of the Land," from Sanskrit bhūmi ("land") +bala ("strength")
  • Adulyadej—"Incomparable power," from Sanskrit atulya ("incomparable") +teja ("power")
  • Mahitalathibet—"Son of Mahidol"
  • Ramathibodi—"Rama, the Avatar of God Vishnu to become the great ruler"; from Sanskrit rāma + adhi ("great") + patī ("president")
  • Chakkrinaruebodin—"Leader of the People who is from the House of Chakri", from Sanskrit cakrī + naṛ ("men") + patī ("president")
  • Sayamminthrathirat—"the Great King of Siam," from Sanskrit Siam (former name of Thailand) + indra ("leader") + adhi ("great") + rāja ("king)
  • Borommanatthabophit— "the Royalty who is the Great Shelter", from Sanskrit parama ("great") + nātha ("the one who others can depend on" or "Power/Right") + "pavitra" ("royalty")


Name Birth Marriage
Date | Spouse
Their Children Their Grandchildren
Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya 5 April 1951 29 July 1981
Divorced 1998
Peter Ladd Jensen Ploypailin Jensen Max Wheeler
Poom Jensen
Sirikitiya Jensen
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn 28 July 1952 3 January 1977
Divorced 12 August 1991
Soamsawali Kitiyakara Princess Bajrakitiyabha
Divorced 1996
Yuvadhida Polpraserth Prince Juthavachara Mahidol
Prince Vacharaesorn Mahidol
Prince Chakriwat Mahidol
Prince Vatchrawee Mahidol
Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana
10 February 2001 Srirasm Akharapongpreecha Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti
Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn 2 April 1955 Never married
Princess Chulabhorn Walailak 4 July 1957 1982
Divorced 1996
Virayudh Tishyasarin Princess Siribhachudhabhorn
Princess Adityadhornkitikhun



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  • HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. The Story of Tongdaeng. Amarin Book, Bangkok. 2004. ISBN 974-272-917-4
  • HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. The Story of Mahajanaka. Amarin Book, Bangkok. 1997. ISBN 974-8364-71-2
  • HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. The Story of Mahajanaka: Cartoon Edition. Amarin Book, Bangkok. 1999. ISBN 974-272-074-6
  • HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. His Majesty the King's Photographs in the Development of the Country. Photographic Society of Thailand & Thai E, Bangkok. 1992. ISBN 974-88805-0-8
  • HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. Paintings by his Majesty the King: Special exhibition for the Rattanakosin Bicentennial Celebration at the National Gallery, Chao Fa Road, Bangkok, 1 April – 30 June 1982. National Gallery, Bangkok. 1982. ASIN B0007CCDMO
  • HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, Chaturong Pramkaew (Ed.). My Country of Everlasting Smile. Amarin Book, Bangkok. 1995. ISBN 974-8363-53-8

External links

Bhumibol Adulyadej
House of Chakri
Born: 5 December 1927
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Ananda Mahidol
King of Thailand
Maha Vajiralongkorn

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