King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Thailand's Longest-serving Monarch and the Ninth King of the Chakkri Dynasty
The young Bhumibol (center) with his mother, Srinagarindra, and siblings Ananda Mahidol (left) and Galyani Vadhana (right)
1927, December 5: Bhumibol was born

He was born at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA, on December 5, 1927. Bhumibol had 2 siblings: Princess Galyani Vadhana (older sister), and Prince Ananda Mahidol (older brother). Fun fact - Bhumibol was the only monarch to be born in the US.

Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts

The U.S. Embassy explicitly stated that the U.S., a nation believed to be a role model of democracy, had formed a close friendship with King Bhumibol, the coup endorser!

1946, June 9: The Death of King Rama 8

King Rama 8 (Ananda Mahidol) was found shot dead in his bedroom. According to Keith Simpson, a British forensic pathologist who investigated the king's death, the death of King Ananda was improbable due to committing suicide.

Paragraphs from Chapter 13: The Violent Death of King Ananda of Siam, Forty Years of Murder: an Autobiography, Keith Simpson, 1978

The position of the body made suicide almost equally unlikely. In twenty years' experience I had not seen a suicide shoot himself whilst lying flat on his back. No such case existed, so far as I knew. The suicide sits up or stands up to shoot himself.   There were other strong indications against suicide. The pistol found at the King's side was by his left hand, but he was right-handed. The wound, over the left eye, was not in one of the elective sites, nor a 'contact' discharge. The direction of fire was not inward towards the centre of the head. Furthermore the King had never hinted at suicide to anyone and had not been depressed at the time of his death.

That left only murder, for which the evidence was very strong. I thought he had almost certainly been shot while dozing, and that unconsciousness had followed instantly. The muzzle of the pistol had evidently been close to but not against the skin, giving the King no warning or any chance to try to protect himself. 'This is not a case of suicidal discharge nor of accident, but one of deliberate killing by firearm,' I concluded my report.

Bhumibol (left) and Ananda (right)

Apart from Simpson's investigation, a special commission of inquiry was established to work on the case; 15 medical experts from many countries were recruited to perform a forensic analysis.  Ananda's body was disinterred for x-ray scans to determine the bullet trajectory.  The team of physicians concluded that King Ananda Mahidol of Siam had been assassinated.  In addition, Edwin Cort, an American physician in the panel, said 'The position of the wound and the bullet track seems to show that death was the result of assassination rather than suicide - accidental death was improbable.'  This is well in accordance with the conclusion from Simpson.

Reference: Gilbert King: Long Live the King

The full forensic investigation report and related documents from the medical committee on Ananda's death, see Andrew MacGregor Marshall: Medical committee report on the death of Rama VIII

Kings, Country and Constitutions: Thailand's Political Development, 1932-2000, 2004, by Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian

Despite the fact that several forensic experts concurred that the death was most likely caused by assassination rather than suicide, the truth of the case has remained mysterious, and the subject is rarely discussed publicly in Thailand. It was reported that during the tumultuous moments after the King's body was discovered, the Princess Mother (Srinagarindra) instructed the royal nurse and physician to clean up the debris around the body and stitch up the gunshot wound in order to keep the body dignified and presentable to outsiders. However, by doing so, much of the death-scene evidence was severely damaged and resulted in inconclusive post-mortem investigations.

Reference Book: Kings, Country and Constitutions: Thailand's Political Development, 1932-2000, 2004, by Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian.

The Revolutionary King, 1999, by William Stevenson

William Stevenson, who was granted unprecedented access to Bhumibol and the royal family for his book, The Revolutionary King, recounted the case of King Ananda's death in the book: 'Ananda Mahidol could not have killed himself, either by suicide or by accident.' Moreover, Stevenson wrote that Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander for Southeast Asia from 1943 to 1946, mentioned in a letter to King George VI of England that 'King Bhumibol shot his brother to obtain the crown.' As a result, the British king refused to receive Bhumibol, declaring 'Buckingham Palace does not host murderers.'

Reference Book: The Revolutionary King, 1999, by William Stevenson.

Pages cropped from Stevenson’s book, The Revolutionary King, 1999
The bed in the Boromphiman Throne Hall where King Ananda’s body was found
Boromphiman Throne Hall 3D Mockup
1946, June 9: Reigning as King Rama 9
Bhumibol at his coronation at the Grand Palace
Bhumibol at his coronation at the Grand Palace
Rangsit Prayurasakdi, Prince of Chai Nat

At the age of 18, Bhumibol ascended the throne on the same day that his brother, Ananda Mahidol, was killed. Not long after succeeding his deceased brother, Bhumibol flew back to Switzerland to continue his education to prepare for his duties as head of state. During this time, Rangsit, Prince of Chainat, was appointed Prince Regent.

Thawan Thamrongnawasawat, Thailand’s eighth prime minister

On 1946 August 23, Thailand had its eighth elected prime minister - Thawan Thamrongnawasawat. However, just over a year later, on 1947 November 8, the government of Thamrongnawasawat was overthrown by a military coup orchestrated by Lieutenant-General Phin Chunhawan and Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram (Phibun). Indeed, the coup had been acknowledged, in Bhumibol's name, by the Prince of Chai Nat.

1947 coup leader: Phin Choonhavan
The other 1947 coup leader: Plaek Phibunsongkhram

Shortly after the coup, Prince of Chai Nat signed the 1947 charter on 1947 November 25, noting that 'Those who were involved in this operation do not desire power for their own good, but aim only to strengthen the new government which will administer for the prosperity of the nation and for the elimination of all the ills suffered presently.'

Thailand's Durable Premier: Phibun through Three Decades, 1932-1957, 1995, by Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian

The charter also restored many of the monarchy's powers that had been stripped away by the 1932 Revolution; for instance, establishing a permanent Supreme State Council, composed of 5 members appointed by the king to advise himself, handle his personal affairs, and act as regency council in his absence; moreover, the king was given several emergency prerogatives, including the right to declare war and impose martial law.

His Fiat Topolino wreck after the crash in Lausanne

On 1948 October 4, Bhumibol crashed with the back of a braking lorry about 10 km from Lausanne, while driving a Fiat Topolino on the Geneva-Lausanne route. He injured his back, lost half of his face to paralysis, and had facial cuts that caused him to lose sight in his right eye.

After recovery from the accident, Bhumibol returned to Thailand and was crowned King of Thailand on 1950 May 5, at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

1955, February 17: Three Scapegoats

After the 1947 coup, Khuang Aphaiwong, the leader of the Democrat Party, was appointed as Prime Minister. In August 1948, he authorized a trial for the case of King Ananda's death, which lasted nearly three years, ending in May 1951. Chaleo Patoomros, King Ananda's secretary, and another two royal pages, But and Chit, were arrested and charged with plotting the king's assassination. They subsequently petitioned for clemency but were rejected by King Bhumbimol on 17 February 1955. As a consequence, these three men were executed the next day. King Bhumibol later admitted unshamingly that he did not believe those men were guilty - three innocent lives were sacrificed for Ananda's death, and the true murderer still lived on without any legal consequences.

Chit, But and Chaleo on trial for conspiracy to murder the king
The last letter from But to his wife before being executed
Powers That Be: Pridi Banomyong through the Rise and Fall of Thai Democracy, 2000, by Sulak Sivaraksa
1957, Coup d'état by Sarit Thanarat

After six months of being Prime Minister, Khuang was forced to resign by the 1947 coup leaders (Phin and Phibun).  Phibun then became Prime Minister on 8 April 1948.  After the general elections in 1957, he was elected to Prime Minister for a second time.  However, he and his party were accused of electoral fraud and intimidating the opposition.  Moreover, Phibun was chastised for disrespectfulness to the monarchy due to his attempts to limit the monarchy's powers.  On 16 September 1957, Phibun was overthrown by a coup led by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.  As a result, Phibun had to leave the country immediately. The coup was not only supported by many royalists and right-wing groups who wanted to reclaim their powers but was also endorsed by the King himself.

During Sarit's dictatorship, the monarchy was revived and reintroduced to the public and media - King Bhumibol started to attend many events and public ceremonies, visit remote areas of Thailand, patronize development projects claiming to improve poor people's living standards, and present diplomas to Thailand's university graduates.  All of these contributed to re-presenting the monarchy's image of being closer to people and elevating the king's status to one of reverence.  In addition, the Sarit government reinstated traditional festivals, ceremonies, and practices; for example, the Royal Barge Procession - a religious/royal ceremony that presents the king and royal members on the royal barges proceeding down the Chao Phraya River, escorted by more than 50 barges manned by over 2,000 oarsmen; this ceremony is to insinuate the concept of god-kings.  Another obsolete practice that had been resurrected was the prostration before the king and other royal members.

The strong relationship between King Bhumibol and Sarit could be clearly seen when Sarit died in 1963.  King Bhumibol ordered 21 days of official mourning in the palace, with Sarit's body lying in state under royal patronage for 100 days.  This mourning tradition is only reserved for the death of a royal member.

Sarit Thanarat - the 1957 coup leader

After Sarit's death, an inheritance disagreement between his son, Major Setha Thanarat, and his last wife, Thanpuying Vichitra Thanarat, exposed Sarit's wealth, which amounted to over US$100 million. It was revealed that he held positions in executive boards of 22 firms and owned a trust company, a brewery, 51 luxury cars, and 30 plots of land, the majority of which he distributed to his dozens of mistresses.

The Royal Barge Procession in the Chao Phraya River
King Bhumibol on the Royal Barge
The practice of prostration in Thailand
The practice of prostration in Thailand
1973, October 14: The popular uprising
1974, Started Having Royal Speech Annually
1976, 6 October Massacre

It was a violent crackdown by Thai police and lynching by right-wing paramilitaries who were parts of the monarchy network. The event cost more than a hundred lives.

1976, Coup d'état by Sangad Chaloryu and Strengthen Lèse-majesté Laws

By increasing its penalty up to fifteen years per count

1980, Promulgating December 5—King Bhumibol Birthday—as a National father's day and National Day
1991, Coup d'état by Sunthorn Kongsompong
1992, Black May and Royal Intervention

Almost 50 civilians killed, hundreds of injuries, and many disappearances.

1997, The first and only People's Constitution of Thailand.
1997, sufficiency economy

To present himself as a down-to-earth king, Bhumibol visited many parts of the country and claimed to be aware of the hardships of Thai farmers and people who lived in remote areas. He initiated several royal projects to "help improve" the rural impoverished. The concept of the sufficiency economy was first introduced by Bhumibol in 1974, stating that

'Development of the country must proceed in stages. First of all, there must be a foundation with the majority of the people having enough to live on by using methods and equipment which are economical but technically correct as well. When such a secure foundation is adequately ready and operational, then it can be gradually expanded and developed to raise prosperity and the economic standard to a higher level by stages.'

Thailand was hit by the Asian financial crisis known as the Tom Yam Kung crisis in 1997. Bhumibol delivered a nationwide speech on television urging Thai people to live their lives in accordance with his sufficiency economic ideology. Sufficient economy has since become mainstream and is now taught in schools.

On the other hand, many well-established economic experts and media were perplexed by Bhumibol's economic theory. For instance, The Asia Times wrote that 'There is a concurrent risk that the royal philosophy will be twisted by less scrupulous government officials as an opportunity to abuse their authority for rent-seeking and extortion, particularly among foreign-invested concerns;' S&P director also said that 'No one knows what sufficiency economy really means.'

Link: Oranuch on sufficiency economy

Moreover, there have been efforts by military governments to incorporate the king's sufficiency economy in national economic policy. Threatened by the prosecution for lèse majesté, Thai critics are generally careful to direct their criticisms towards the governments rather than the king. As a result, criticisms are frequently directed at inefficient implementation rather than disagreement in principle.

The leaked message from the US Embassy in Bangkok to the US State Department also heavily criticized the concept of sufficiency economy by describing it as ‘vague and malleable,’ and its popularity is due to lack of censurability about the king in Thailand.

Link: thaicables – It's Your Right to know the Truth!

2006, Coup d'état by Sonthi Boonyaratglin
2008, world's richest royals by Forbes

In 2008, Forbes published a list of the world's wealthiest monarchs. It was unsurprising that Middle Eastern monarchs dominated the list, but what is outrageously astounding is that the king of a developing country, such as Thailand, was at the top of the list. After six decades on the throne, Bhumibol was also the world's longest-reigning monarch, with a fortune of US$35 billion (in 2008). Many Thais regarded him as semi-divine, but this was mainly due to heavy propaganda and Lèse-majesté law during his reigning period. According to Forbes, Bhumibol owned stakes in the publicly listed Siam Cement and Siam Commercial Bank and had increased his investment in Deves Insurance in order to take it private. Forbes also reported that Bhumibol wielded enormous power and implicitly supported the 2006 coup that overthrew former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Link: The Top 15 Wealthiest Royals

2010, Red Shirts and Thai Military Crackdown
2014, Coup d'état by Prayut Chan-o-cha
2016, King Bhumibol died on October 13, 2016, in Siriraj Hospital