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King of Thailand

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King of Thailand

The Monarchy of Thailand (also referred to as the King of Thailand or historically as King of Siam) (Thai: พระมหากษัตริย์ไทย) refers to the constitutional monarchy and monarch of the Kingdom of Thailand (formerly Siam). The King of Thailand is the head of state and head of the ruling Royal House of Chakri. The king's power is limited to being a symbolic figurehead, but the institution commands the respect and reverence of the Thai people.[1]

The current monarch of Thailand is Bhumibol Adulyadej. The king has reigned since 9 June 1946, making him the world's longest reigning current monarch and the world’s longest serving head of state. Most of the king's powers are exercised by his elected government in accordance with the Constitution of Thailand. The king still retains many powers such as: being head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, the prerogative of royal assent and the power of pardon. The 2007 Constitution of Thailand Chapter 2, Section 9 (The King and the Faiths) states: The King is a Buddhist and Upholder of religions.

The Siamese-cum-Thai monarchy dates from the founding of the Sukhothai Kingdom in 1238, with a brief interregnum from the death of Ekkathat to the accession of Taksin. The institution was transformed into a constitutional monarchy in 1932 after the bloodless Siamese Revolution of 1932. The monarchy's official residence is the Grand Palace in Bangkok; however, the present king spends much of his time at the Chitralada Palace, or the Klai Kangwon Villa (Thai: วังไกลกังวล) ("Palace Far from Worries") in the beach resort city of Hua Hin.

Origin

The current concept of Thai kingship has evolved through 800 years of absolute rule. The first king of a unified Thailand was the founder of the Kingdom of Sukhothai: King Sri Indraditya in 1238. The idea of this early kingship is said to be based on two concepts derived from Hinduism and Theravada Buddhist beliefs. The first concept is based on the Vedic-Hindu caste of “Kshatriya” (Thai: กษัตริย์), or warrior-ruler, in which the king derives his powers from military might. The second is based on the Theravada Buddhist concept of “Dhammaraja” (Thai: ธรรมราชา), Buddhism having been introduced to Thailand somewhere around the sixth century A.D. The idea of the Dhammaraja (or kingship under Dharma), is that the king should rule his people in accordance with Dharma and the teachings of the Buddha.

These ideas were briefly replaced in 1279, when King Ramkhamhaeng came to the throne. Ramkhamhaeng departed from the past tradition and created instead a concept of “paternal rule” (Thai: พ่อปกครองลูก), in which the King governs his people as a father would govern his children.[2] This idea is reinforced in the title and name of the King, as he is still known today, Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng (Thai: พ่อขุนรามคำแหง).[3] However this lasted only briefly, by the end of the kingdom the two old concepts had returned as symbolized by the change in the style of the kings; “Pho” was changed to “Phya” or Lord.

Kings of Ayutthaya

The Kingdom of Sukhothai was eventually supplanted by the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, which was founded in 1351 by King Ramathibodhi I. During the Ayutthayan period the idea of kingship changed. Due to ancient Khmer tradition in the region, Hindu concept of kingship was applied for the status of the leader. Brahmins took charge in the royal coronation. The king was treated as if a reincarnation of Hindu gods. Ayutthaya historical documents show the official titles of the kings in great variation; Indra, Shiva and Vishnu, or Rama. Seemingly, Rama was the most popular, as in 'Ramathibodhi'. However, Buddhist influence was also evident as many times the king's title and 'unofficial' name Dhammaraja, a abbreviation of the Buddhist Dharmaraja. The two former concepts were re-established, with a third, older concept taking a more serious hold. This concept was called “Devaraja” (Thai: เทวราชา) (or Divine-King), which was an idea borrowed by the Khmer Empire from the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Java, and especially the idea of a scholar class based on Hindu Brahmins. The concept centered on the idea that the king was an incarnation (Avatar) of the god Vishnu and that he was a Bodhisattva (enlightened one), therefore basing his power on his religious power, his moral power and his purity of blood.

The king, portrayed by state interests as a semi-divine figure, then became – through a rigid cultural implementation – an object of worship and veneration to his people. From then on the monarchy was largely removed from the people and continued under a system of absolute rule. Living in palaces designed after Mount Meru (Home of the gods in Hinduism), the kings turned themselves into a “Chakravartin”, where the King became an absolute and universal lord of his realm. Kings demanded that the universe be envisioned as resolving around them, and expressed their powers through elaborate rituals and ceremonies. For four centuries these kings ruled Ayutthaya, presiding over some of the greatest period of cultural, economic and military growth in Thai History.

Sakdina and Rachasap

The kings of Ayutthaya created many institutions to support their rule, which were similar to the contemporary regulations of the royal court of George V "the Brilliant" (r. 1314-1346), but modified to comport with southeast Asian Mueang mandala "circles of power." Whereas feudalism developed in the European Middle Ages, Ayutthayan King Trailokanat instituted Sakna or Sakdina, (ศักดินา: literal translation, Field Power, but usually translated as "dignity marks."[4] This comported with the names of two kingdoms further north: Lanna "Million Fields" and Sip Song Phan Na "Twelve Thousand Fields." "Rachasap" (ราชาศัพท์ royal vocabulary) is required by court etiquette as an honorific register consisting of a special vocabulary used exclusively for addressing the king, or for talking about royalty.[5]

Royal authority

The king’s sovereignity was reflected in the titles “Lord of the Land” (พระเจ้าแผ่นดิน Phra Chao Phaendin) and Lord of Life (เจ้าชีวิต Chao Chevit). These titles engendered a belief by foreign observers that the king was an absolute monarch in the European sense: king being chief administrator, chief legislator and chief judge, with all laws, orders, verdict and punishments theoretically originating from his person. The duty and responsibility of the king, however, developed from the authority of a king in ancient India, and Siamese kings had to devise ways to work around those limitations.[6] This was disrupted in 1767, when Thai digests of the dhammasāt (ธรรมศาสตร์) were lost when a Burmese army under the Alaungpaya Dynasty invaded, sacked and burned the city of Ayutthaya.

Kingdom restored

An interlude filled by civil war was ended when King Taksin restored the dominion under what has been called the Thonburi Kingdom.

Chakri Kings

In 1782 a new dynasty was established by King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (or Rama I) and moved the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok. King Rama I also founded the House of Chakri, the current ruling house of Thailand.

During the Rattanakosin Period the Chakri kings tried to continue the concepts of Ayutthayan kingship once again emphasizing the connection between the sovereign and his subjects. On the other hand, they continued to not relinquish any authority of the throne. Kings Buddha Loetla Nabhalai (Rama II) and Nangklao (Rama III) created a semblance of a modern administration by creating a supreme council and appointing chief officers to help with the running of the government.[7] King Mongkut marked a significant break in tradition when he spent the first 27 years of his adult life as a Buddhist monk during which time he became proficient in the English language, before becoming Rama IV. As king, he continued appointment of officers to his supreme council, the most notable being Somdet Chao Phraya Prayurawongse and Si Suriyawongse, who both acted as Chief Ministers for King Mongkut and (as regent until 1873) to King Chulalongkorn (Rama V.)

King Chulalongkorn (or Rama V) ascended the throne as king of Siam in 1868. King Chulalongkorn; himself educated by westerners, was intent on reforming the monarchy along western lines. First he abolished the practice of kneeling and crawling in front of the monarch and repealed many laws concerning the relationship between the monarch and his people. Instead he created a monarchy based on western lines of an ‘enlightened ruler’. However he continued to preserve many ancient aspects and rituals of the old kingship, including his religious and feudal powers. In 1874 the King created a privy council, copied from the European tradition to help him rule his Kingdom. During his reign Siam was pressured to relinquished control of it old tributaries of Laos and northern Malaya to Western powers, Siam itself narrowly avoided being colonized. His son King Vajiravudh (or Rama VI) (succeeded in 1910) continued his father’s zeal for reform and brought the monarchy into the 20th century. He was succeeded by his brother King Prajadhipok (or Rama VII) in 1925.

Change

In June 1932, a group of foreign educated students and military men called “the Promoters” carried out a bloodless Revolution, seizing power and demanded that King Prajadhipok, grant the people of Siam a constitution. The king agreed and in December 1932 the people were granted a constitution, ending 150 years of absolute Chakri rule. From then on the role of the monarch was relegated to that of a symbolic head of state. His powers from then on was exercised by the Prime Minister and the National Assembly

In 1935 King Pradhipok abdicated the throne, following disagreements with the increasingly authoritarian government. Rama VII lived in exile in the United Kingdom until his death. The king was replaced by his young nephew Ananda Mahidol (or Rama VIII). The new king was 10 years old and was living abroad in Switzerland; a council of regents was appointed in his place. During this period the roles and powers of the King was entirely usurped by the fascist government of Plaek Phibunsongkhram, who aligned Siam on the side of the Axis powers during the Second World War. By the end of the war Phibunsongkhram was removed and the young King returned. During the War many of the King's relatives were part of the Free Thai movement, which provided resistance to foreign occupation during the war and helped rehabilitate Thailand after the war.

After Rama VIII’s passing in 1946, Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej (or Rama IX), aged 19 years old, he became the new monarch, Rama IX. To date he is the world's longest reigning monarch. In this Oath of Accession, the King Bhumibol Adulyadej pledged to "reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the people." With these words, the King devoted his life and resources to aiding the development of the Kingdom and the improvement of the Thai people's livelihood.

Beginning approximately in 2000, the role of the Thai monarchy was increasingly challenged by scholars, media, observers and traditionalists, and as more educated pro-democracy interests began to express their rights to speech. Many deemed that a series of laws and measures relating to Lèse majesté in Thailand aimed to protecting the King and the royal families are hinderance to the freedom of expression. Dozens of arrests, hundreds of criminal investigations, multiple imprisonments have been made based on these laws. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in his 2005 national birthday broadcast, also indicated that he could be criticized if it is constructive and not politically motivated.

As a liberal democratic country, Thailand supports and highly values freedom of expression which is a fundamental right guaranteed in Section 45 of the constitution. However, the right to freedom of expression is not without limits and may be subject to certain restrictions as provided by law and as necessary to uphold the rights or reputations of others and to protect national security and public order. The lèse-majesté law is part of Thailand’s Criminal Code, which also contains general provisions on defamation and libel of private individuals. The law gives protection to the rights or reputations of the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent in a similar way libel law does for commoners. It is not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression nor the legitimate exercise of academic freedom including debates about the monarchy as an institution.

The king is assisted in his work and duties by the Private Secretary to the King of Thailand and the Privy Council of Thailand, in consultation with the head of the cabinet, the Prime Minister. In accordance with the constitution the king is no longer the originator of all laws in the kingdom; that prerogative is entrusted to the National Assembly of Thailand. All bills passed by the legislature, however, require his royal assent to become law. The monarchy's household and finances are managed by the Bureau of the Royal Household and the Crown Property Bureau respectively, these agencies are not considered part of the Thai government and all personnel are appointed by the king.[8]

The heir apparent to the Thai monarchy is the Crown Prince of Thailand, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. The succession to the throne is governed by the 1924 Palace Law of Succession, promulgated by King Vajiravudh. Section 22 of the constitution clearly stated that the amendment of the Palace Law shall be prerogative of the King.

List of kings

Royal Regalia

The present set of Royal Regalia of Thailand (Thai: เบญจราชกกุธภัณฑ์) and the Royal Utensils was created mostly during the reign of King Rama I and Rama IV, after the previous set was lost during the sack of Ayutthaya by the Burmese in 1767. The Regalia is used mainly during the coronation ceremony of the king at the beginning of every reign. The Regalia is presently on display in the Museum of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.[9][10]


  • Royal Nine-Tiered Umbrella (พระมหาเศวตฉัตร)- the most important regalia; currently there are seven, distributed at various palaces.
  • Great Crown of Victory (พระมหาพิชัยมงกุฎ)- official headgear and the main symbol of kingship.
  • Sword of Victory (พระแสงขรรค์ชัยศรี)- found in Tonlé Sap in 1784, the sword represents military power.
  • Royal Staff (ธารพระกร)- symbol of justice
  • Royal Fan and Flywhisk (วาลวีชนี)- Royal Fan made of gold and the Royal Flywhisk made from the tail of a white elephant.
  • Royal Slippers (ฉลองพระบาท)- official footwear made of gold

The Thai Royal Utensils (Phra Khattiya Rajuprapoke) are also for the personal use of the monarch,[10] comprising:

  • the Betel Nut Set
  • the Water Urn
  • the Libation Vessel
  • the Receptacle.

These unique objects are always placed on either side of the king's throne or his seat during royal ceremonies.

Other Symbols of Kingship

Royal Ceremonies


The King and other members of his family carry-out many royal ceremonies per year, some dating from the 13th century.

Royal Orders and Decorations

The king is sovereign of several Royal Orders and Decorations, the prerogative to appoint and remove any persons from these orders are at the king's discretion. However sometimes recommendations are made by the Cabinet of Thailand and the Prime Minister.

See also

Monarchs of
the
Bhumibol Adulyadej
(King Rama IX)

Bibliography

  • The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (2007), s:2007 Constitution of Thailand
  • Aryan, Gothan (15 – 16 September 2004), Thai Monarchy, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Retrieved on 5 July 2006, presented in Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Kullada Kesboonchoo Mead, The Rise and Decline of Thai Absolutism, RoutledgeCurzon 2004

Notes

References

External links

  • King of Thailand.net
  • Website of the King's 50 Anniversary Celebration
  • The illustrious Chakri family
  • The Royal Family, History and Information
  • Website on the Thai Monarchy
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