By Noor Hamouda, Sophia Moreno, and Kiera Stukey
Death of the King
Over the last year the political climate in Thailand has experienced a new turn that it has not witnessed in over seventy years. On October 13th, 2016, former and beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej also known as King Rama IX passed away.
King Rama IX became the monarch shortly after world war II and was only 18 years old when he gained power. He was born in the United States, in Cambridge, where his father was attending Harvard. He spent a significant amount of his own educational career in Switzerland, but once he returned home to Thailand he stayed.
Because of his extensive rule, King Rama IX is the only King a majority of the Thais have known. Recognized as the people’s king, he was a symbol of unity for the country and was highly respected. “Any perceived insult or defamation of the monarchy is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, according to country’s lese-majeste laws that are among the world’s strictest.”(CNBC, 2016).
After his death, the country entered a period of mourning that is expected to last a significant amount of time. According to the Economist 2017 “Thailand is still only at the start of a long period of national mourning, which will continue until King Bhumibol’s cremation next October.” Since his death, pictures of the late king around the country have increased two fold. “In the Kingdom of Thailand, the prime minister manages government affairs but the centuries-old monarchy still remains a deeply revered institution” ( New York Times, 2016).
However, even prior to the King’s death Thai politics have been unstable for the past decade. While the prime minister is in charge of governmental affairs the monarchy remains a deeply valued institution. There have been a significant amount of protests and two coups regarding the political issues in Thailand within recent years. Most of these worries have stemmed from an uneasiness of the now king, but then prospective King and Crowned Prince, Maha Vajiralongkorn.
The New King
Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun is the only son of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit. King Vajiralongkorn was formally given the title of Crown Prince in 1972, when he was 20 years old, making him the official heir. King Vajiralongkorn, whose name means “adorned with jewels or thunderbolts,” became King Rama X on December 1, 2016, at the age of 64. He is a qualified civilian and fighter pilot. He even flies his own Boeing 737 when he travels overseas (BBC, 2016).
King Vajiralongkorn has been married three times. His first wife, Princess Soamsawali, was his cousin. He had one child with her, Princess Bajarakitiyabha, whom was born in December, 1978. His second wife, Yuvadhida, was an actress. He had five children with her, four sons and one daughter, from 1979 to 1987. They got married in 1994. However, in 1996, King Vajiralongkorn publicly denounced her and disowned their four sons. Lastly, his third wife, Srirasmi, was a lady-in-waiting. He had one son, Prince Dipangkorn, with her in 2005. However, Srirasmi was stripped of her royal title in 2014. In addition, “nine of her relatives, including her parents, were arrested for lese majeste on charges they had abused their connections with the Crown Prince” (BBC, 2016).
(Picture from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38126928)
Implications of the New King
Ever since the appointment of King Vajiralongkorn, there has been major political unrest throughout Thailand. Overall, Thailand’s population is largely divided–there is a younger, more educated middle class, and a poorer, more conservative class. There have been severe and violent protests in the streets of Bangkok involving the more educated population as they are incredibly angry about the election of the new king. King Vajiralongkorn has decided to remain neutral in regards to the protests, however, if the violence continues, it is believed that the military will intervene (CNN, n.d.).
Additionally, because of the significant social divide in Thailand, the education system is worsening. Almost one third of the country’s fifteen year olds are considered “functionally illiterate,” and it is ranked overall in the bottom quarter of seventy different countries. It is believed that Thailand is spending too much money on building smaller schools, where the teaching is poorest. Thailand’s prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, argues for urgent school reform, however, it is known that more of his goals are aimed at boosting his and the monarchy’s prestige rather than creating an efficient, effective school system (The Economist, 2017).
Overall, the people of Thailand are extremely upset due to the appointment of the new king. Unfortunately, it only looks like Thailand’s current protests and education system will continue to worsen if the current circumstances do not change.
CNBC. (2017, Apr 30). Thailand intensifies state control under new king. Retrieved from: http://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/30/thailand-intensifies-state-control-under-new-king.html
CNN. (2017,Feb 20). Thailand in crisis: What’s happening on the ground and why. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/19/world/asia/thailand-explainer-post-election/
McKirdy, E. (n.d.). Thailand crisis: What’s happening on the ground in Bangkok, and why. In CNN. Retrieved May 12, 2017.
Profile: Thailand’s new King Vajiralongkorn. (2016, December 01). Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38126928
The Economist. (2017, January 19). Poor schools are at the heart of Thailand’s political malaise. In The Economist. Retrieved May 12, 2017
The Economist. (2016, Oct 20). A royal mess. Retrieved from:http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21709021-ruling-junta-missing-opportunity-change-thailand-better-royal-mess?zid=306&ah=1b164dbd43b0cb27ba0d4c3b12a5e227
The New York Times. (2013, Oct 13). Bhumibol Adulyadej,88, People’s King of Thailand, Dies After 7-Decade Reign. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/14/world/asia/thai-king-bhumibol-adulyadej-dies.html?_r=0