Thailand’s 21st Century Monarchical Father
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand was born on Monday, 5 December 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A. He was the third son of Prince Mahidol of Songkla and Princess Consort Sangwan (HRH Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess mother). At birth, he was named His Highness Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej, meaning “Strength of the Land.”
His Majesty is the direct grandson of King Chulalongkorn or Rama V who great reforms in the 19th Century to all aspects and institutions of Thai society were instrumental in ushering Thailand into the modern era and helping Thailand remain uncolonized by the Western Imperial powers. His Majesty’s father, Prince Mahidol, dedicated his life to the development of many modern ideas particularly in the field of medical science so that he is now known as the Father of the Modern Thai Medical Profession.
Prince Mahidol came back to Thailand and passed away when His Majesty was not yet two years old. After a brief period of primary schooling in Bangkok, His Majesty left with the rest of his family for Switzerland where he continued his secondary education at the Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande, Chailly sur Lausanne and received the Bachelieres Lettres diploma from the Gymnase Classique Cantonal of Lausanne.
He then chose to enter Lausanne University to study Science, but the death of his elder brother King Ananda Mahidol or Rama VIII, in Bangkok on 9th June 1946, changed the course of his life completely, for the Law of Succession bestowed on him the arduous but challenging function of the Thai Crown. His Majesty decided to go back to Switzerland for another period of study, but this time in the subject of Political Science and Law in order to equip himself with the proper knowledge for government. In 1950, His Majesty returned to Thailand for the Coronation Ceremony, in which on 5th May 1950, he was crowned King Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty.
He went back to Switzerland for another period of study before the urgent call of his country and people brought him back to Thailand in 1951 to stay.
In Paris in 1947, His Majesty was introduced to Mom Rajawongse (M.R.) Sirikit, the beautiful daughter of His Highness Prince Chandaburi Suranath, the Thai Ambassador to France, and Mom Luang Bua Kitiyakara. On 12th August 1949, at the Royal Thai Embassy in London, His Majesty presented her with an engagement ring and the couple was married following their return to Thailand in 1950. The wedding was presided over by his grandmother, Her Majesty Queen Savang Vadhana, at Sapathum Palace in Bangkok on 28th April 1950.
Their Majesties have four children. Princess Ubol Ratana, born 5 April 1951; His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, born 28 July 1952; Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, born 2 April 1955 and Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn, born 4 July 1957.
At his coronation, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej uttered the momentous Oath of Succession: "We shall reign with righteousness, for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people". His activities since then have borne out the truth of those words.
The Development King
From the beginning of his reign, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has selflessly devoted his time and effort to the well-being and welfare of the Thai people. In order to be able to advise his rural subjects, most of which are farmers, about their living conditions, he transformed his palace in the heart of Bangkok, Chitralada Palace, into a virtual agricultural laboratory, with its own rice cultivation area, rice mill and diary farm. Numerous Royal Projects have been initiated under his guidance and research stations and Royal Development Centers set up all across the country.
Driven by a desire to know his people and their living conditions, His Majesty, shortly after his coronation, made a historical journey to the impoverished north-eastern provinces. Accompanied by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, the young king and his queen were enthusiastically welcomed by hundreds of thousands of villagers, many of whom had walked for days just for a fleeting glimpse of their new king and queen. This arduous 22-day trip became the model for all subsequent royal trips. Since then, His Majesty has visited every Thai province - by plane, helicopter, jeep, train, boat, or on foot - thus making him the most widely travelled king in Thai history.
Through these visits to provincial and rural areas, His Majesty has been able to gain valuable insight into his people's lives and problems, thus keeping himself informed about a wide range of rural difficulties; some are peculiar to a certain locality while others common to an entire region. Moreover, he has become a father-like figure to millions of his subjects who are no longer amazed to find him suddenly in their village, available for consultation about matters both trivial and serious.
During his trip to rural areas, His Majesty consults not only local officials and religious leaders, but also solicits first-hand information from farmers and agricultural workers, concerning their common problems, needs and hopes. On returning to Bangkok, he initiates steps to ensure that villagers receive the required assistance. If governmental departments are unable to effect immediate assistance, he will often use his own funds to initiate relief. Such assistance is currently supported with funds from the Chai Phatthana Foundation established in 1988 by His Majesty. Never one to simply issue directives, His Majesty makes proposals and seeks the cooperation of the local population in order to ensure their successful implementation.
Over 4,000 small-scale "royally suggested" projects have been started in this way, covering the whole spectrum of rural problems in Thailand, from the introduction of new cash crops to water and soil conservation, from swamp drainage to the preservation of national forests. In all cases, the aim is not only to serve immediate needs, but also the needs of future generations by conserving the existing ecosystem and seeking to restore areas that have already suffered from misuse. Some of these projects, notable those involving crop substitution, have proved so successful that the United Nations hopes to emulate them in other countries facing similar problems.
One of the earliest and most innovative projects initiated by His Majesty was the Royal Project in the North. The slash-and-burn technique of clearing virgin forests as used by the migratory tribal people living in Thailand's mountainous North has had an increasingly adverse effect on the environment, resulting in deforestation of vast watershed areas. The traditional cultivation of opium poppies has also caused a problem for the government. The King's project sought to address these problems and also to improve the quality of life of the hill tribes.
Under this programme, a wide variety of cash crops which yield larger profits than opium have been introduced. The programme also provides assistance in the form of growing and marketing techniques, as well as bringing educational and medical facilities to permanent settlements. The results can be seen clearly not only in tribal communities who have joined the project, but also in the supermarkets of Bangkok and in numerous new export products.
International recognition of the project's effectiveness has come in many forms, including financial grants and expert assistance from several foreign governments. In 1988, the Royal Project was awarded the Ramom Magsaysay Award, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize, in the area of international understanding.
To overcome water shortage problems in the Northeast, reservoirs and dams have been built and alternative crops tested to increase farmers' income. Swamp drainage has been a concern of royally-initiated projects in the South, together with land reclamation and preservation of mangrove forests. In a number of experimental centers set up at His Majesty's initiative near the Gulf of Thailand, various agencies are demonstrating ways that surrounding villagers can improve crop yields in the sandy soil; certain important new sources of income such as the breeding of fresh-water and brackish water fish and prawns have also been introduced with notable success.
Several of His Majesty's projects seek to relieve the problems caused by deforestation. These include reforestation, improvement of existing farmlands, the planting of commercial fruit orchards, and programme aims at educating the public on the importance of preserving those forests that remain, and the environment in general.
Acknowledging that the people’s potential enemy is poverty, he has taken it as his responsibility to protect them from this danger. An example is his lesson on how people should learn to live a moderate life according to the philosophy of sufficiency economy, making them understand that development theory should co-exist with natural principles and the principle of sustainable development, which is now a universally adopted development guideline in many countries. Its merits and practicality were duly recognized by the United Nations as, in the words of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, "of great relevance to communities everywhere during these times of rapid globalization” and “reinforce[ing] the United Nations’ efforts to promote a people-centered and sustainable path of development.” The King did not present the philosophy as an alternative economic theory. Rather, it is a way of thinking and living that could help protect against the effects of boom and bust cycles on individuals and communities.
Such programmes have not only brought enormous benefits to Thailand's rural population, but have also given the monarchy a new image, linking it more intimately with the lives of ordinary Thais than ever before. The King is not merely a symbolic figure reigning from a distant capital; he is a trusted ally working closely with them in the long struggle for a better life. The pictures of His Majesty and other members of the Royal Family seen displayed in homes and business establishments all over the country are clear signs of deep affection as well as reverence for this institution.
In creating his unique version of a modern monarchy, His Majesty has been a significant force in other areas besides that of rural development. His moral leadership, personal as well as symbolic, has proven immensely important, sometimes decisive, in a number of national crises since he came to the throne, always on the side of peace and stability and remaining within the limits of his constitutional authority.
As upholder of all religions, His Majesty gives equal attention to the protection of all forms of worship and also to the problems of other religious communities in Thailand. On his regular stays at his royal residence in the southern province of Narathiwat, for example, His Majesty spends much time visiting mosques throughout the region where the majority profess the Islamic faith and has established close contacts with religious leaders as well as ordinary people. His Majesty also offers personal donations not only to Buddhist institutions, but equally to institutions of other religions and has often presided over the various ceremonies and rituals of other faiths.
A Monarch for the 21st Century
During the course of his 63-year reign as a constitutional monarch, the longest in the world by any living monarch, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej has served as Thailand’s moral authority and role model, leading by example in the best way possible. Despite his status as King, he has emphasized the value of moderation as the path to ensure long-term sustainability, and he practices what he preaches. In contrast to his lofty status as King and the opulence and grandeur of his ceremonial dress worn during official State functions, His Majesty’s leads a practical and moderate lifestyle, a direct result of the core values instilled in him since childhood by his mother, Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother.
While the role of the monarchy has changed since 1932, the monarchy remains central to the Thai identity. The bond between the Thai people and this principal institution is deeply rooted in the history of Thai nationhood. Nevertheless, it is also the person of the King himself and what he has done which has earned him and the monarchy the love and respect of Thais. His lifelong dedication to the well-being of his subjects, and his direct and close contact with them, have earned him the near universal affection and admiration of the Thai people, who affectionately call him “Father”, “Development King” or “People’s King”. Most Thais honour him by hanging his portraits in their homes.
In June 2006, the 60th anniversary of His Majesty’s accession to the throne, all but one of the world’s reigning monarchs or their royal representatives, gathered in Bangkok to honour him as the world’s longest reigning monarch. On the same occasion, the world also witnessed an extraordinary spectacle. Hundreds of thousands of Thais wearing yellow – the colour for Monday, the King’s day of birth – thronged Bangkok’s Royal Plaza and surrounding avenues, waving flags and cheering “Long Live the King”.
His Majesty’s development work on behalf of the rural poor, including his philosophy of sufficiency economy, has been recognized globally. Among others:
· In 1995, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued an Agricola Medal in recognition of his devotion to the well-being and happiness of all the people of Thailand.
· In May 2006, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented him with the first UNDP Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award.
· In January 2009, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) presented him with its first Global Leaders Award in recognition of his remarkable contribution to intellectual property both as an inventor and as an active proponent of intellectual property as a tool for development. His Majesty has over 20 patents and 19 trademarks to his name. His first patent was registered in 1993 for the Chaipattana aerator. He received patents for his rainmaking techniques in 1999 and 2003. Many of the King’s inventions have been put to practical use in a range of rural development projects, generating concrete benefits for communities throughout Thailand. Among his most well-know inventions are:
Ø The Chaipattana Aerator, a paddle-wheel machine in the form of a floating buoy that helps add oxygen to water, resulting in an effective and inexpensive waste water treatment system, for which His Majesty won WIPO’s Best Inventor Award in 2001
Ø The Royal Rainmaking project, whose operations have greatly benefited farmers throughout the country, easing water shortages, increasing agricultural production and thereby improving the livelihood of the people. It now serves as a model for many Asian countries and has made Thailand the center of tropical rainmaking activities in this region
Ø Technique for conversion of palm oil into palm diesel.
Sources: “From Royal Initiatives”
“The Working Monarch”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, 2006
The Public Relations Department, Office of the Prime Minister