| The idea of
a monarchy may seem somewhat anachronistic in a world of space-age travel
and microchip technology, and indeed it might be if the monarchical system
practised were not adapted to suit modern times, or if the reigning monarch
did not keep abreast of changes taking place.
Fully aware of the changing nature of life, the monarchy in Thailand is constantly adapting itself to ensure that it fits in with the modern world and is able to respond to the needs of the people and society.
The Thai monarchy has a unique quality, and that is its adaptability to change, which has enabled it to flourish to this day. It has always shown exceptional compassion, relevance and vitality, particularly in the contemporary world.
The first Thai kings ruled over Sukhothai, the first integrated Thai kingdom founded almost 800 years ago. It was during the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great (1275-1317) that the ideal of a paternalistic ruler originated. Markedly different from the concept of divine right practised by the Kmers of that time, the ideal implies that the ruler be alert to the needs of his people and aware of the fact that this duty was to guide them.
This paternaistic ideal was lost during the long Ayutthaya period
when the monarch became a lofty, inaccessible figure, rarely seen by most
citizens. Nevertheless, the four-century era witnessed the reigns of
some remarkable rulers, whose achievements were far-reaching.
It was with the founding of the Royal House of Chakri, in 1782,
and the establishment of Bangkok as the capital, that the old Sukhothai
ideal of kingship began to return, developing through a succession of
challenges both to the country and to the monarchy itself.
Though the first six reigns of the Royal House of Chakri and a
part of the Seventh Reign were under a system of absolute monarchy, the
contribution made by each successive king to the development of the nation
has been recorded in history as being greatly instrumental in leading
Thailand into the modern world.
During the Seventh Reign, the absolute monarchy became
constitutional with the consent and support of King Rama VII.
King Rama VIII's reign, although brief, saw Thailand recovering
from the turmoil of World War II. The present monarch has encouraged
development plans and projects which have led to the peace and prosperity
of the nation.
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.
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. Numerous projects have been initiated under his
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 northeastern provinces. Accompanied by Her
Majesty Queen Sirikit, the young king was 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
During his trip to rural areas, His Majesty consults not only
officials and local monks, 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 assistace 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
Over 1,000 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 ecosytem 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 qaulity of life of the hilltribes.
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 education the public on the importance of preserving
those forests that remain, and the environment in general.
|| Such programms
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.
Firmly committed to the development of democratic principles, he
has also restrained impulsive officials from acting for their own
interests to the detriment of the nation. The political stability which
has played such an essential part in Thailand's remarkable economic growth
over the past decade has been largely due to the fact that leaders of all
factions share a deep repect of his views on such matters.
His Majesty provided equally wise counsel during Thailand's
struggle against communist insurgency. Drawing upon his wide experience
of rural areas, he suggested solutions aimed at relieving rural poverty
and inspiring confidence in the open-minded policies of the authorities.
Today, most former insurgents have been peacefully reassimilated into Thai
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.