Maliha Rahim ’17j
On Oct. 13, the Kingdom of Thailand lost its sovereign leader King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who had served the country for over 70 years. Until the time of his death, the king had not only been the longest ruling monarch in Thai history but also the world’s longest reigning head of state, having ascended to the throne shortly after World War II in 1946. The King was Thailand’s ninth ever monarch, and hailed from the Chakri Dynasty as Rama IX. He passed away at age 88 in a hospital in Bangkok, the nation’s capital, and had been facing illness for some time in his old age. The king was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts as his father, Mahidol Adulyadej, studied medicine at Harvard.
Mourners all over the world grieved the loss of King Bhumibol this weekend, as he had been a beloved figurehead to the Thai people during his reign. King Bhumibol was considered to be a significant symbol of unity among the Thai population. He had been ill for a number of years prior to his death, and was consistently hospitalized. Publicly, his devotees hung his portrait in shops, restaurants and even billboards around the country, expressing concerns about his health and anxiety regarding a possible future without him as sovereign leader. Thus, with his death comes much uncertainty about the future of the throne.
Thai politics have historically been extremely rocky due to significant conflicting tensions between the state, religious Buddhist factions and the army, resulting in an extremely polarized political sphere. The past few years alone were greatly tumultuous. The military junta seized power in a 2006 coup d’état, a feat that has happened several times in the past as well. “Thais came to see this Buddhist king as a father figure wholly dedicated to their welfare, and as the embodiment of stability in a country where political leadership rose and fell through decades of military coups,” reported the New York Times.
There is much concern about the future of Thai politics following the death of the king. Many saw him as the only glue between the armed forces and civil service establishments; now there remains no buffer between the opposing forces and conflicts are certain to arise. Immediately after King Bhumibol’s death, the Thai government declared his son, crown prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, to be his successor as King Rama X, an act in correspondence with the constitution. However, there is widespread fear that King Rama X will fail to bring about the same sense of stability and reassurance to the Thai people as his father did.
The country is to observe a one-year long period of mourning out of respect to the late monarch. Memorial services took place all over the world, including in Cambridge where he was born. According to The Crimson, “Local memorials took place at the King Bhumibol Adulyadej Square, which commemorates the king’s connection with the University and sits between the Kennedy School and the Charles Hotel.”