(1927– ) Thai king
Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX of the Chakri dynasty, is the reigning king of Thailand and the longestruling monarch in the world. His bespectacled visage is a familiar sight in Thailand, where photographs of the king and his queen consort, Sirikit, adorn the walls of many homes.
Political developments ended absolute monarchy in Thailand in 1932, and Bhumibol’s uncle King Pradjadhipok abdicated three years later, elevating 10-yearold Ananda Mahidol to the throne. On June 9, 1946, the 21-one-year-old King Ananda was found in the royal chamber dead of a gunshot wound. Three palace aides were eventually executed for their involvement. Bhumibol Adulyadej, still a minor, ascended to the throne the next day but returned to Switzerland to continue his education. In 1950 Bhumibol returned temporarily for his wedding and official coronation. He married his fiancée, the 17-year-old M. R. Sirikit Kityakara, whom he had met in Paris while her father was the Thai ambassador to France. The royal couple returned to take up permanent residence in Thailand in 1951.
Between 1951 and 1957, King Bhumibol and the royal household found themselves subject to a “royal containment” policy. The government, headed by the antiroyalist prime minister Phibun and dominated by the military, vigorously circumscribed the influence of the monarch, restricting him primarily to a symbolic role in traditional and religious ceremonies.
The situation changed in 1957 when a rival military faction, led by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, worked with a royalist faction to topple the Phibun government. Sarit and his coconspirators apparently had sought an audience with the king to inform him of their plans. In turn, King Bhumibol designated Sarit the military protector of Bangkok during the period of upheaval. This marked the beginning of a partnership between Sarit and the king.
Field Marshal Sarit and the king enjoyed a cordial working relationship. Sarit, who appreciated the value of promoting King Bhumibol both as a rallying point in Thai political life and as an antidote to communist influence, astutely included the monarch as a junior partner in governance. Consequently, King Bhumibol’s role in Thailand became increasingly visible and influential. He and Queen Sirikit toured the country, visited foreign nations, and in general became prominent symbols of Thailand. His popularity in the country remains unquestioned.
Even though the king is generally above politics, he has used his stature to intervene in political crises. In 1992 a political crisis brewed when demonstrators protested the appointment as prime minister a leader of the military coup that had ousted a democratically elected government the previous year. The king intervened, mediating a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
King Bhumibol’s popularity in the country is also the result of his and the royal family’s efforts to improve the livelihood of ordinary Thai citizens. The king and other members of his family have been closely involved with agricultural, environmental, and social welfare projects that have endeared them to the populace.