Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej died peacefully at age 88 on Thursday, October 13, sending a wave of sorrow throughout his country. Having ascended the throne 70 years ago in 1950, he was the world’s longest reigning monarch.
On the day of the king’s death, thousands of people assembled outside of Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital where he was being held. Many cried and stood in shock when they heard the news of his passing. The king was greatly loved in his country and viewed as the embodiment of national unity. “It’s a devastating loss…He reformed the country and put Thailand on the map. If it weren’t for him, the Thai people wouldn’t be where we are today,” said Warm Ayanaputra ’17. Images of him are found everywhere in Thailand, from buildings to highways. For most inhabitants, he was the only king they ever knew. Piper Chaisilprungruang ’17, a Thai Scholar here at Loomis, said, “He was not only our king, but he was and will be our father forever. I proudly say that I was born in the reign of King Bhumibol.”
The King’s son, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will succeed him, but not until a year of mourning has passed. In the interim, Prem Tinsulanonda, a former prime minister, will serve as regent. As a part of the mourning period, the Thai cabinet declared a public holiday on Friday for government officers, and requested that the public avoid any “entertainment activities” for the next month. Flags have also been set at half-staff for 30 days. A year from his death, the king will be cremated, and Prince Vajiralongkorn will be coronated.
The transition of power may also hold important implications for the political system of Thailand. The nation has been ruled by a military junta, or dictatorship, since 2014, when the military gained power through a coup. The leaders of the uprising justified their actions with the claim that the military, a non-partisan and neutral entity, would bring political stability to Thailand. King Adulyadej endorsed them (perhaps partially due to his weakening condition), thus legitimizing the new system, which included the rewriting of the constitution. But it is unknown if relations with the new king will remain as friendly.
Born in Cambridge and educated in Switzerland, Bhumibol Adulyadej ascended the throne after his older brother died under unclear circumstances. King Adulyadej will be remembered for the remarkable progress and improvement of Thailand that he facilitated. During his reign, he helped to transform the country’s economy from one based on agriculture to one centered on commerce and industry. He also saw a growth in democracy and an increase in democratic processes. In times of political turmoil and during various uprisings, he preserved national unity and peace. A pragmatist, he said he did not care how he would be remembered by history, but that if people want to write about him, “…they should write how I do things that are useful.”