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Thailand Monarchy

"We will reign with righteousness, for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people."

Those are the traditional words pronounced by each Thai king on the day of his accession to the throne. They are seemingly simple enough in content, yet those words reflect very well the essence of kingship that has developed through the long and varying history of the Thai nation. Thai history is marked by two outstanding features: Thailand, also known for a long period as Siam, has always managed to retain its independence while the nations all around fell prey at one time or another to colonialist powers.

The second unique element of Thai history is that the country has always had a king on the throne as the nation's leader. It is, therefore, not surprising that the two features are often held as being intertwined, which makes the study of the function of the Thai throne all the more vital to a biographical sketch of any Thai king.

The concepts of monarchy have their origins in Sukhothai, founded in the early part of the 13th century and generally regarded as the first truly independent Thai capital. Here, particularly under the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great (1279-1300) was born the ideal of a paternalistic ruler alert to the needs of his people and aware of the fact that his duty was to guide them. This is a view markedly different from the divine kingship practiced in other countries, for example by the Khmers.

This paternalistic ideal was at times lost during the long Ayutthaya period, when Khmer influence regarding kingship reappeared, and the monarch became a lofty, inaccessible figure, rarely seen by most citizens. Nevertheless, the four-century era of Ayutthaya witnessed the reigns of some remarkable rulers, whose achievements were far-reaching.

After the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767 and the brief reign of King Taksin at Thonburi, the present Chakri Dynasty of Bangkok was established in 1782. It has carried on much of the tradition of Thai kings as handed down from Ayutthaya. Western influences, however, became more powerful in Southeast Asia during the fourth and fifth reigns of the dynasty, and Thai kings were wise enough to see that some adaptation to Western standards would become necessary in order that Thailand might escape conquest and survive as a sovereign nation. Princes and courtiers began to be sent to study in Europe where democracy was the rule, and in Thailand itself power began to be decentralized as well as divided among capable people outside the immediate circle of the King. In 1932, however, a group of people quickened the process by staging a bloodless revolution, which transformed the country into a constitutional monarchy in the European model. The then King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) continued to reign as a constitutional monarch but only for a few years before he was forced, by ill health, to abdicate. King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) was chosen to ascend the throne at a tender age and spent his life mostly at study abroad. His unfortunate death in 1946 at the age of 20 brought his younger brother, Bhumibol Adulyadej, to the throne. For the past 51 years, it has been left to King Bhumibol Adulyadej to give the meaning to, as well as set the practical standard for the role of a Thai king within a democratic framework.


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