Why Thailand’s King is So Beloved By His People

The passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday night has sparked a deep sense of loss among the people of Thailand. The 88-year-old royal has been known to be a champion of the poor and a stabilizing influence within the country.

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The world’s longest-reigning monarch is widely-revered in the country where many regard him as semi-divine, BBC reported. His speeches were considered teachings and often seen as words of great wisdom.

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA on Dec. 5 1927, the future king was the youngest son of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, the Prince of Songkla, and his wife, Mom Sangwan (later Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother), according to his biography.

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His name, Bhumibol Adulyadej, was given to him by his uncle, King Rama VII (Prajadhipok), then head of the House of Chakri. His name means “strength of the land, incomparable power.”

In his youth, Bhumibol began his lifelong passion for photography and jazz, with him using his camera and playing the saxophone during his leisure time. He also liked painting and writing.

He exhibited his passion for learning early in life. He once said, “Learning is a never-ending process. Those who wish to advance in their work must constantly seek more knowledge, or they could lag behind and become incompetent.”

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Following the death of his brother, King Ananda Mahidol at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Bhumibol Adulyadej assumed the throne on June 9 1946. He was later crowned as the king of Thailand in May 1950 after finishing his studies in Switzerland.

During his reign, His Majesty endured several military coups, lasted 19 constitutions and was served by a total of 30 prime ministers.

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The abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932 has caused the considerable decline of the monarchy’s status before his reign. However, despite being overshadowed by powerful military leaders, King Bhumibol was able to rebuild the monarchy’s profile with the help of sympathetic generals and other royal princes. He supported several royal projects that helped with agricultural development in the provinces which benefited millions of people. He also prioritized having education much more accessible to the poor.

“Talking about the well-being of the people, the improvement of education is essential. Without good education, people cannot earn their living. The emphasis must be at all levels. If we talk about higher education and the need for scientists of high standing, we must start from elementary or kindergarten levels. Without a good foundation, there is no way to build up higher levels of learning,” he said.

As a constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol had limited powers. However, he intervened in politics in times of crisis throughout the years. During some of the country’s most tumultuous periods, the king has found non-violent means to resolve political conflicts.

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Thailand’s chaotic politics in 1973 saw King Bhumibol’s intervention for the first time when pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok were fired on by soldiers and the protesters were given shelter in the royal palace for protection. The move would later lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Thanom Kittikachorn’s administration.

King Bhumibol also faced a group of army officers who were staging a coup against the prime minister and General Prem Tinsulanond in 1981. Bangkok was eventually later retaken by soldiers loyal to the king.

When several demonstrators were shot while protesting against an attempted coup by General Suchinda Kraprayoon in 1992, the king intervened again. In front of TV cameras, he scolded both General Suchinda and the protest leader, retired General Chamlong Srimuang, while they were on their knees. The incident resulted to the restoration of the electoral democracy and the creation of a new constitution.

In 2006, troubles surrounding Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration caused many to call on the king to intervene — he refused as he saw that it would be inappropriate. Many view that his influence was still somehow instrumental in the coup that deposed Thaksin in the same year.

King Bhumibol was the recipient of the United Nations’ first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award presented by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2006. His Majesty even obtained a patent for an artificial rain-making technique he developed.

““No academic knowledge can be acquired all at once. One has to gradually accumulate the knowledge until it is broad-based and comprehensive. In learning, it is necessary gradually to build up what is learnt, as the base for higher and more in-depth knowledge,” he was quoted as saying.

In September 2009, the king was admitted to the hospital for a lung infection and spent much of his time there since. He had grown increasingly frail in health in recent years, leading to his eventual death on Thursday evening.

The government’s cabinet has declared Friday as a holiday and the Thai flag has been ordered to be flown at half-mast in the country for the next 30 days, according to the BBC. Public leisure activities such as movie screenings, concerts and sports events have been cancelled or postponed during the period of national mourning.

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