Thailand has a monarchy, a constitutional monarchy. The King of Thailand, Bhumibol, runs the throne. Don't say anything
bad about him. Thailand has strict lèse majesté laws protecting the royal family. Rama IX is no exception to protection from
Providing reliable monarchy
services since 1238
"Swallowing coup medicines
tastes a lot better when you have a spoonful of reliable Thai monarchy
to make it go down with."
In Britain, the royal family is treated with mixed feelings.
Plenty of Brits hold their royal family in disdain, and it's been talked
of openly about getting rid of the British royals entirely. No one
is sure if the new system would feature some new position of little
power to replace the queen or if the system would be left much as it
currently is but without a monarch. Currently, between 65-70% of
the British support keeping the monarchy around, if only to make fun of
No one would dare make fun of the Thai king or talk about getting rid of him
or the monarchy. Thailand has had a
strict lèse majesté law on its books since 1908 when Thailand was still
an absolute monarchy. Nothing changed when the monarchy went
constitutional in 1932. All of Thailand's stack of Constitutions
proclaim that "the King shall be enthroned in a position of revered
worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King
to any sort of accusation or action."
The King has publically said, most notably in his 2005 birthday speech,
that "I must also be criticized. I am not afraid if the criticism
concerns what I do wrong, because then I know . . . If you say
that the King cannot be criticized, it suggests that the King is not
human." The King is the only
person in Thailand who could've gotten away with saying that. Had
anyone else, foreigner or local, expressed an opinion that the King wasn't
above criticism, the lèse majesté law could've been invoked.
"Long Live The
King!" had a lot more punch when the king was younger than 80
No one has yet done any serious jail time for lèse majesté.
A Frenchman once swore at Princess Somsawali while flying
first class on Thai Airways to Tokyo. He was detailed
upon the stopover in Bangkok, but excused when he wrote an
apologetic letter to the King. A Swiss citizen was
convicted for painting graffiti on portraits of the King.
The King pardoned him a month later. An Australian was
arrested for passages deemed offensive to the King in a book
he wrote. He was sentenced to 3 years at the Bangkok
"Hilton," but the King pardoned him, too. Based on
these pardons, it appears that the King is sincere when he
says he can tolerate criticism.
The Thai criminal code states that anyone defaming,
insulting, or threatening the King, Queen, the
Heir-apparent, or the Regent shall go to the bighouse for 3
to 15 years. The code never clarifies exactly what
acts or words constitute true defamation and insult.
Calling the British Prince Charles an a-hole in first class on a British
Airways flight or spray painting mustaches on Queen
Elizabeth II's portrait would be considered comedy material in Britain.
No one would call it a serious defamation or insult.
The British monarchy or government would only hurt themselves if they
brought charges against ordinary citizens for doing such
things. There'd be a backlash among the British public and
the future of the British monarchy would be at stake.
The law seems to be used predominantly as a mudslinging tool
by one political group to heap scorn and derision upon another
to the first group's interests. Since everyone
is supposed to be pro-King, accusations of anti-monarchal
behavior are a serious offense. The King himself nor
any of his immediate family have ever invoked the law.
The Thai Constitution does not
give the Thai royal family any legal right for them to be
able to defend themselves in a Thai court of law.
Hence, the lèse majesté law. Any material seen as even slightly anti-monarchy is
prohibited. Paul Handley's 2006 book The King Never
Smiles was banned in Thailand before it was published.
In 2007, You Tube was blocked in Thailand for having
material displayed which some felt would be offensive to the
The comparison between the British monarch and the Thai
isn't a parallel one. The British royal family's role is
largely symbolic. They represent a living piece of
British history, nothing more. The Thai monarch
is A LOT more. According to
every Thai constitution since 1932, the King is to be
"revered." He heads the armed forces, offers pardons at his discretion,
and promotes the Buddhist faith. Within Thailand, he
has the combined power of an American president, British
royal, Vatican Pope, and noble sage with the
net worth of a billionaire tycoon. His portrait is to be found in all
public buildings but plenty of private ones, too.
And before any movie begins in any Thai cinema, all are
expected to rise to pay their respects to the King as a
montage of the King's past and his achievements are
Show respect to
the King before eating your popcorn and drinking your soda at the
movies: the King's Song
Thailand's Limited Experience With Constitutional
There's really only been one constitutional monarch since
the constitutional monarchy system in Thailand was initiated
in 1932 and succeeded the absolute monarchy.
Prajadhipok (Rama VII), the king who was pressured
to grant the Thai people their constitution, abdicated after only 3 short years in his new position.
Once he'd lived it up as an absolute monarch, the limits
of being a constitutional monarch had to be a great
The king position was passed down to
nephew, Ananda Mahidol, aged 10 at the time. Who lets a 10-yr
stay up past 10 PM let alone run a country? Thailand was run by regents
until Mahidol got through puberty. A decade later, Mahidol
returned to Thailand permanently to meet his
destiny, which turned out, badly for him, to be a
gunshot to his head before he was officially crowned as
the new king. His brother, Bhumibol
Adulyadej (Rama IX), took the king job in 1946 and
posthumously crowned his deceased brother as Rama VIII.
Bhumbibol has had the job ever since and, as of 2010,
remains the world's longest reigning monarch.
The King turned 80 in 2007.
past, the eldest male heir succeeds the
previous monarch. As the
King has only one son, Crown Prince Maha
Vajiralongkorn, this would be the odds
on choice as the next King of Thailand,
but it's not set in stone.
The current Thai constitution allows the
King to appoint any of his kids to the
throne. The ease of transition to
a new monarch remains unclear.
Most Thais presently alive have known no
Thai Monarchy -- Life Of Ease Or
Life To Please?
Toilet paper comprised of 1,000B notes, stir fried silver and gold with
chili and basil, and palaces stretching across entire provinces -- this
is how outsiders might view the royal family's life in Thailand.
The British royal family certainly looks like they're living it up in elegance,
and the Thai royal family could buy and sell more than 50 British royal
families. Do the Thai royals strut around in style?
The monarchy is intrinsically linked with the national religion of
Theravada Buddhism, which preaches detachment to all things. King or
kings-to-be spend time as monks studying the faith they later spend
their lives defending. King Mongkut (Rama IV) spent 27 years as a monk before he ascended the throne. This amount of time spent in a monastery
is extreme, but it does illustrate the importance of Buddhist tradition to the monarchs. Mongkut's son Chulangkorn spent a year
in a monastery. Chulangkorn's balding son, Vajiravudh, entered a monastery for a short time when he was 23.
Modern Thai males do
a short stint in a Buddhist monastery, like the current Thai king has done.
The King's son, at age 26, was ordained for a season as a monk.
But let's get something straight. As Buddhist as the Thai monarchy
may be, they don't dress in robes and sleep on cots in spartan rooms.
They have a number of palaces at their disposal. The
Grand Palace is the most famous and a major tourist attraction in
Bangkok. Several monarch offices are located there, but the
King and company don't live there. They reside at the
Chitralada Villa in Bangkok. Then, there's the
Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin, 240 km south of Bangkok. The
monarchs hang in this krib when visiting the mid-South. For a
northern getaway, there's
Bhubing Palace in Chiang Mai Province in the far north near the Laos
Bhuban Palace in Sakon Nakhon Province is sweet during royal visits
to Isaan, the third of Thailand located in the northeast.
For Deep South trips, the royals swing and party at the
The royals earn about USD 150 million per year on rents. They have
three aircraft and two custom-built limos for their exclusive use.
If any of them are craving a Chicago-style spinach-basil-sausage pizza
at 3 AM, we're sure one will be flown in from Chicago. But it
doesn't appear that the current King has abused his royal status to
pursue an ostentatious display of wealth and power. You're far
more likely to read about the British royals living it up on the public
dime than you are the Thai royals.
One might say that a royal family's life of ease, one in which they
never have to consider the mundane task of earning a living, is a
tradeoff for the lives they are forced to give up living as a royal.
No royal can marry whomever s/he pleases and live however s/he likes.
Example: the eldest daughter of
the King, Ubolratana Rajakanya, married an American in 1972 and had her
royal title relinquished. She is now known as simply
Princes Ubolratana instead of HRH Princess Ubolratana. Divorcing
the American husband did not earn her back her former title.
A life spent as a royal means a life in the public eye. An
aspiring starlet or newscaster may revel in that. Most would not.
What's more, it means giving up the pursuit of a vocation that may have
brought deep meaning to your life. The King could not pursue a
life as a jazz musician, boat designer, or engineer. He has one
fulltime job and role: being the King. Any interests he
would have considered pursuing as a job in a normal life became
relegated to hobbies after he assumed the throne.
Too many kingly duties
to have time to lounge on a deck chair in Monte
Rama IX has been deeply involved in charitable projects ever
since he assumed the throne. His initial projects in
the 1950's came out of his own pocket. In 1981, the
Royal Projects Development Board was formed which put
precedence on any developmental projects the King wished to
pursue. Over the years, the King and his family have
been involved with the building of bridges, land reform, and
medical care in small villages.
The King himself was educated abroad in his youth and had
advantages most Thais never will. A large degree of
his charitable efforts rest on his desire to see Thailand
rise the world development ladder, and he has encouraged his
family and the nation to follow suit. Part of the
efforts must also derive from the fact that modern royal
families ruling within constitutional monarchies must
project a modern image to its people that they are relevant,
caring, and interested in the national welfare.
Remember this: officially, constitutional monarchs are
there at the behest of the people they rule. If the
monarchs don't "earn their keep" in some way, future
citizenry could decide to turn their countries into
Thailand is a an Asian country with a monarchy.
The King of Thailand, Bhumibol, is top dog here and he's protected by various lèse majesté laws, as is the rest of the Thailand royal family.
The Constitutional monarchy continues with Rama X maybe?