Although Bhumibol is a constitutional monarch, he has several times made decisive interventions in Thai politics, including the 2005-2006 Thai political crisis. He was credited with facilitating Thailand's transition to democracy in the 1990s, although in earlier periods of his reign he supported some military regimes, including Sarit Dhanarajata and more recently, the Council for Democratic Reform. He has also used his considerable influence to stop coups, including recent attempts in 1981 and 1985.
Reported to be one of the richest men in the world, with a personal net worth of $35 billion dollars, Bhumibol has used part of his great wealth to fund over 3,000 development projects, particularly in rural areas. He is immensely popular in Thailand, and is revered as a semi-divine figure by the Thais.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Thai title is: Phrabat Somdet Phra Poraminthara Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej
The literal translation of the title :
Bhumibol came to Thailand in 1928, after Prince Mahidol obtained a certificate in the Public Health programme at Harvard University. Bhumibol finished his primary schooling at Mater Dei school in Bangkok and then left with his family in 1933 for Switzerland, where he received his secondary education at the École Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande in Chailly-sur-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. He was studying science at the University of Lausanne when his elder brother, Phra Ong Chao Ananda Mahidol, was crowned King of Thailand in 1935. King Ananda Mahidol then elevated his brother and sister to Chao Fa status, the most senior class of the Thai princes and princesses. They came to Thailand briefly in 1938, but returned to Switzerland for further study in Lausanne, remaining there until the end of World War II in 1945.
While finishing his degree in Switzerland, Bhumibol visited Paris frequently. It was in Paris that he first met a first cousin once removed, Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara, daughter of the Thai ambassador to France. He was 21 and she was 15. Bhumibol became a regular visitor to the ambassador's residence.
On 4 October 1948, while Bhumibol was driving a Fiat Topolino on the Geneva-Lausanne road, he collided into the rear of a braking truck 10 km outside of Lausanne. He hurt his back and incurred cuts on his face that cost him sight in his right eye. He subsequently wore an ocular prosthetic. 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:
On the same day, he made his consort 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 (สว่างวัฒนา, Sawang Watthana Phra Phanvasa Aiyeekajao) , Bhumibol entered a 15-day monkhood (22 October 1956 – 5 November 1956) at Wat Bowonniwet, as is customary at the death of elder relatives. 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, the name "Rama" is never used in Thai. The name is used to approximate Ratchakal ti Kao (รัชกาลที่ 9, literally "the Ninth Reign"). More commonly, 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"). Formally, he would be referred to as Phrabat Somdej Phra Chao Yu Hua (พระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัว) or, in legal documents, Phrabat Somdej 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]).
Whereas it is manifested that the country administration by the Government under the premiership of Field Marshal P. Phibunsonggram is untrustworthy, as well as the Government could not maintain the public order. The military under the leadership of Field Marshal Sarit Dhanarajata has successfully took over the administrative power and is acting as the Military Defender of the Capital. I, therefor, appointed Field Marshal Sarit Dhanarajata as Military Defender of the Capital. All the people are requested to remain calm while all public servants are to follow the Orders issued by Field Marshal Sarit Dhanarajat. Henceforth onwards. Announced on 16 September Buddhist Era 2500 (1957).
Other disused ceremonies from the classical period of the Chakri dynasty, such as the royally-patronised ploughing ceremony (Thai: พิธีพืชมงคล) , were also revived. Upon Sarit's death in 8 December 1963, an unprecedented 21 days of mourning was 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 relation with Bhumibol as Sarit.
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.
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.
Bhumibol summoned Suchinda and the leader of the pro-democracy movement, retired Major General Chamlong Srimuang, to a televised audience. 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. According to the book "The King Never Smiles", the audio portion of what Bhumibol actually said has never been broadcast. It was one of the few public occasions in which Bhumibol directly intervened in a political conflict directly and publicly. A general election was held shortly afterward, leading to a civilian government.
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.
The 1997 People's Constitution introduced a new judicial structure. The traditional include the Criminal and Civil Courts as the first instance for court cases, followed by the Appeals Court, with cases ending up in the Supreme Court. The new structure included a Constitutional Court and an Administrative Court having their own Supreme Constitutional Court and Supreme Administrative Court. The Constitutional and Administrative "branch" of the Judiciary were independent of the Supreme Court. This system made easy for scrupulous politicians to have the same case filed in different courts. Some cases were under the jurisdiction of the Administrative and Constitutional and Civil court.
In a rare, televised speech to senior judges, Bhumibol requested that the judiciary take action to resolve the political crisis. On 8 May 2006, the Constitutional Court invalidated the results of the April elections and ordered new elections scheduled for October 15, 2006. The Criminal Court later jailed the Election Commissioners.
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 country - not the Government.
On July 20, Bhumibol signed a royal decree endorsing new House elections for October 15, 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.
The King's role in the coup was the subject of much speculation among Thai analysts and the international media. The King had an audience with Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda at the same time as the First Special Forces were ordered mobilised. 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." On Saturday 23 September 2006, the junta warned they would "urgently retaliate against foreign reporters whose coverage has been deemed insulting to the monarchy." 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.
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.
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 a new Auditor-General. Jaruvan Maintaka, who had been appointed by The State Audit Commission, later went into conflict with the prime minister. Constitution Court ruled in July 2004 that the appointment of Jaruvan Maintaka to this post was technically unconstitutional. But Jaruvan refused to leave her position without an explicit order from Bhumibol. When the Senate, approved of a replacement for Jaruvan, Bhumibol, in a very rare move, refused to approve the replacement. The Senate declined to vote to override his veto. 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 Bhumibol supported her appointment.
Senator Kaewsan Atibhodi, a former member of the Constitution Drafting Committee, noted that under Article Seven of the 1997 Constitution said that: "whenever no provision under this Constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional practice in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of the State”. Kaewsan interpreted this as giving Bhumibol veto powers over the Senate's appointment of Wisut Montriwat to replace Jaruvan: "Whenever [the King] considers [something as being] not beneficial to the people and being unjust, His Majesty has a veto power".
Bhumibol had 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. 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. The law limited the maximum land an individual could hold to 50 rai (20 acres) , at a time when the Crown Property Bureau was the Kingdom's largest land-owner. The law was repealed after General Sarit overthrew the elected government in a coup.
Bhumibol's popularity was demonstrated following the 2003 Phnom Penh riots in Cambodia, when hundreds of Thai protesters, enraged by the burning of the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, gathered outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok. The situation was resolved peacefully 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.
Bhumibol has the constitutional prerogative to pardon criminals. There have been criteria for the selection of the convicted, including age and the remained serving time. But the 2006 pardoning of several convicted paedophiles, including an Australian rapist and child pornographer, caused controversy.
The military regime of Plaek Pibulsonggram (1951–1957) suppressed the monarchy. However, during that period Bhumibol managed to initiate a few projects using his own personal funds. These projects included the Royal Film and Radio Broadcasting Projects.
In the military governments of Sarit Dhanarajata and his successors (1958–1980), Bhumibol was reportrayed as the "Development King" and the source of the economic and political goals of the regime. Royally-initiated 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 civilian 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 the Localism in Thailand theory, an alternative to the export-oriented policies adopted by the period's elected governments.
In 1960, Bhumibol was a recipient of the Royal Victorian Chain, a personal award of the British Monarch. Also on June 28, 1960, President Eisenhower presented Bhumibol with the Legion of Merit, Degree of Chief Commander and Bhumibol presented President Eisenhower with the Most Illustrious Order of the Royal House of Chakri.
Bhumibol, who serves as head of The National Scout Organization of Thailand, was presented the Bronze Wolf award on 20 June 2006, the highest award of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, for his support and development of Scouting in Thailand by Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden and Honorary President of the World Scout Foundation. The presentation took place at Chitralada Palace in Thailand and was witnessed by Chairman of the World Scout Committee Herman Hui.
Bhumibol set a world record for receiving the greatest number of honorary university degrees (136) in 1997. Most of his degrees came from Thai universities: for instance, Kasetsart University awarded him ten honorary doctoral degrees at once.
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, concerts and dance performances.
Tied in with the anniversary, on 26 May 2006 United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented Bhumibol with the United Nations Development Programme's first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award. National holidays were on 9 June and June 12 -13, 2006. On June 9, 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 honor 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.
In his youth, Prince 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 Baromphiman Palace for target practice.
King Bhumibol was taken to Bangkok's Siriraj hospital on Saturday 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. He was discharged on 7 November 2007.
Like his father, a former 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.”
Through the CPB, Bhumibol owns massive amounts of land and equity in many companies. The CPB is the majority shareholder of Siam Cement (the largest Thai industrial conglomerate), Christiani & Nielsen (one of the largest construction firms), Deves Insurance (which has monopoly on government properties and contracts), Siam Commercial Bank (one of the largest banks), and Shin Corporation (a major 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 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 giving them eviction notices. Bhumibol's substantial income from the CPB, at least five billion baht in 2004 alone, is exempt from taxes. The CPB receives many state privileges. Although the Ministry of Finance technically runs the CPB, in reality the decisions are made by Bhumibol. The CPB's annual report is for the eyes of Bhumibol alone.
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. Unsubstantiated rumors were circulated that he also receives fees for handing out diplomas in university graduation ceremonies.
Bhumibol has a fleet of three personal aircraft: a Boeing 737-800 and a Airbus A319. The newer Airbus had been purchased by the Thaksin Shinawatra government for his use, but after the 2006 coup, the junta offered it to the king. The other planes are used by members of the royal family.
There is controversy over whether criticism of members of Bhumibol's Privy Council also qualifies as criticism of Bhumibol. Police Special Branch Commander Lt-General Theeradech Rodpho-thong refused to file charges of lèse majesté against activists who launched a petition to oust Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, claiming that the law only applied to members of the royal family. Two days later, he was demoted by Police Commander Seripisut Temivavej.
There was also controversy following the death of Princess Galyani Vadhana. The website of Same Sky Books, publishers of Fah Diao Kan magazine, was shut down by the government after comments on its bulletin board questioned claims made by the Thai media that the entire country was in mourning over the death. Comments were also made criticizing official calls for the public to wear black as a sign of mourning.
Bhumibol himself stated that he was not above criticism in his 2005 birthday speech. "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 said. "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." Despite this, few have dared to call for the repeal of the law. Any doing so have been accused of disloyalty and could also be charged with lèse majesté. Political scientist Giles Ungpakorn noted that "the lèse majesté laws are not really designed to protect the institution of the monarchy. In the past the laws have been used to protect governments, to protect military coups. This whole [royal] image is created to bolster a conservative elite well beyond the walls of the palace."
In 2005, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) issued arrest warrants for two Swedish citizens, Abdulrosa Jehngoh and Chipley Putra Jehngoh, claiming that their Manusaya.com website contained content insulting to Bhumibol. Chipley Putra Jehngoh also held Malaysian and Thai citizenship and at the time lived in the Middle East. Abdulrosa Jehngoh was granted Swedish citizenship and lives in Sweden. The website was hosted in Canada and was linked to separatist organisation in southern Thailand or more specifically the website 'www.pulo.org' which incited separatist movement.
Sondhi, a vocal opposition of Prime Minister Thaksin, often accused Thaksin and his affiliates of lèse majesté. In April 2007, A Bangkok criminal court sentenced Sondhi for defamation for claiming on his Muang Thai Rai Sapda talk show that Thaksin's Deputy Transport Minister, Phumtham Vejjayachai, was linked to the anti-royal Manusaya.com website.
Academics have been investigated for lèse majesté for even questioning the role of the monarchy in Thai society. In 2007, Assistant Professor Boonsong Chaisingkananon of Silpakorn University was investigated for lèse majesté for asking students in an exam if the institution of the monarchy was necessary for Thai society and how it may be reformed to be consistent with the democratic system. The University cooperated with the police investigation, and even turned over students' answer sheets and the marks the professor gave them.
Other insults to Bhumibol's image that have resulted in criminal complaints of lèse majesté and arrests include placing photographs of anybody above photographs of the King on websites and refusing to stand while the Royal Anthem is played at cinemas.
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 has warned the Thai media about even referring to it in print. (An official ban was not possible as it was written with the Royal blessing.) The book has been criticised for factual inaccuracies (geographical and historical) , disrespecting Bhumibol (it refers to Bhumibol by his family 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."
On 5 December 1977, Princess Sirindhorn was given the title, "Sayam Boromrajakumari" (Royal Princess of Siam). Her title is often translated by the English-language press as "Crown Princess", although her official English-language title is simply "Princess".
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 signalled Princess Sirindhorn as 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 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.