Bhumibol Adulyadej is revered throughout Thailand, as well as being the world’s longest serving monarch.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and King Bhumibol Adulyadej (also known as Rama IX) is at the heart of the country’s spirituality.
The long-serving monarch took to the throne on 9 June 1946, making him the world’s longest reigning head of state, as well as being the longest serving king in Thai history.
Despite his official status as a constitutional monarch separate from politics, his influence on various political matters has been significant – particularly with regard to the country’s adoption of democracy in the 1990s. Although he has also used his influence to stop several military coups, he has also supported military regimes on occasion, most recently the Council for National Security between 2006 and 2008.
To the majority of Thai people, the king is revered with a special significance beyond that of most royal persons in the rest of the world, and although he has received criticism from certain political groups, there is no widespread campaign to end his reign. This is likely partly due to the fact that public criticism of the monarch can be risky business, with sentences ranging from three to fifteen years’ imprisonment.
Like many ruling heads of state, Bhumibol Adulyadej possesses a significant personal fortune, which has been estimated at 30 billion US dollars at the close of 2010. This includes shares in a number of private companies, such as Thai Insurance PLC. National property managed by the Crown Property Bureau is also owned by the king, and this body finances a number of public projects to aid the country’s agricultural industry, environmental issues and public health, among other investments.
The king’s health is often the subject of media reports, particularly following his admission to hospital in September 2009 for flu and pneumonia. The king is of such concern to Thailand that the country’s financial markets suffered a temporary crisis in October of that year, as news was awaited of his wellbeing and return home. Following Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death, his son Prince Vajiralongkorn will succeed to the throne. The king’s daughter Princess Sirindhorn possesses the title of Crown Princess.
Visitors can see the king’s image being displayed far and wide while on holidays in Thailand, from the high streets of Bangkok to rural areas and islands, and it’s never advisable to criticise him or any aspect of the royal family. Not only is this likely to offend native Thai people, but it could also result in trouble with the authorities.