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The Monarchy

Chakkri Dynasty

Regal TitleReignConventional FormSystematic Romanization 1
Rama I 21782-1809Yot FaPhutthayotfa Chulalok
Rama II 21809-1824Loet LaPhutthaloetla Naphalai
Rama III1824-1851Nang KlaoNangklao
Rama IV1851-1868MongkutChomklao
Rama V1868-1910ChulalongkornChunlachomklao
Rama VI1910-1925VajiravudhMongkutklao
Rama VII1925-1935 3PrajadhipokPokklao
Rama VIII1935-1946 4Ananda MahidolAnantha Mahidon
Rama IX1946-20165Bhumibol AdulyadejPhumiphon Adunlayadet
Rama X2016-Maha VajiralongkornMaha Wachiralongkon

1 As adopted by the Library of Congress, except for the omission of diacritical markings.
2 Conferred posthumously.
3 Abdicated; died 1941.
4 Regency until 1945.
5 Regency until 1951.

From the accounts given of early and middle parts of the 19th century, it seems that but little change in the manners and customs of the people had taken place during the two hundred years or so that had elapsed since the early European visitors of the seventeenth century had recorded their impressions. Siam was a land which could fairly lay claim to a civilisation of a kind. It had institutions, ceremonials, an art, and an ordered religious worship of its own. Even for an Asiatic community, the government was singularly despotic. The abject servility shown by the Siamese to their king has become proverbial, and it is hard to say whether the spirit of subjection under which they lay, or the forms and ceremonials in which it manifested itself impress the imagination most.

It was not only the king who was treated with this servile deference. The whole social fabric rested on the principle of the submission of the lower to a higher authority. All the nobles had their own retainers and followers, and while the king was worshipped by them almost like a god, they in their turn expected no less homage from their inferiors. To speak of the society as feudal, though this name has been given to it, is perhaps misleading. In Europe feudalism supplied a check to the absolutism of the monarchy. The associations of the word are with the power of the great territorial nobles, and not the king himself. This was the case, too, even in Japanese feudalism. And though in Siam there was graded social hierarchy, yet the position of the king was so supreme, and the power of the aristocracy so overshadowed, that the sight which rivets attention above all others is the monarch seated in transcendent grandeur on his throne.

Sarayuth Poolsup wrote in 2003 that " ... reincarnation and kamma influence the Thai way of life and politics... The Ayuthaya kings introduced Hindu beliefs to strengthen the concepts of King as the Lord of Lives and the caste system. The rulers exploited the concepts of reincarnation and kamma to exclude the masses from the political system by suggesting that those who have authority or were born in the ruling castes had accumulated religious merit in their previous lives and now are enjoying the fruits of their past merit. Nartsupha (1984/1999) stated that the masses were convinced that they faced difficulty, poverty, hunger, and misery because they had sinned or had done bad deeds in previous lives, whereas the nobles had done good deeds in the past. Kaewthep (as quoted in Nartsupha, 1984/1999) asserted, Its not that farmers cannot see the exploitation or do not feel exploited. Just the opposite. In reality farmers feel exploited. But the farmers explain to themselves that the reason behind this exploitation isthat they lack merit (p. 42).

"The acceptance of this belief by the masses created a culture that, to a great extent, still influences political participation and the way of life of the Thai people. Today the masses generally continue to believe that their misfortunes are the results of sins or bad deeds in previous lives and there are not many things they can do to change their hardships in the present lives."

All nations have both formal and informal governance systems that is, systems within which citizens and government officials interact. Governance involves both public decision-making and public administration. The formal systems are embodied in constitutions, commercial codes, administrative regulations and laws, civil service procedures, judicial structures, and so on. The informal systems, by contrast, are based on implicit and unwritten understandings. They reflect socio-cultural norms and routines, and underlying patterns of interactions among socio-economic classes and ethnic groups. Their manifestations are less easily noticed and identified. Thus, governance systems have a dual character; formal and informal elements exist side-by-side, and are intimately connected in diverse and not immediately obvious ways.

The highest power still lies within the hands of the ruling monarch. Almost every constitution states that sovereignty comes from the people and the King distributes this power through parliament, a council of ministers and the court of law. Thus, the highest power of the country lies in the hands of the Thai king as well as the people. Even to the present, the Thai monarchy has remained the highest and most revered institution since the inception of Thai society. Kings have ruled and served as the Highest Commander of the armed forces, looked after the welfare of the people and defended the sovereignty of the land. Throughout each move from city states to Siam and to Thailand, the monarchy worked assiduously in protecting territory and resources to ensure security, unity and to bring about modernization to the country.

The first and foremost concept is the status of the monarch as Head of Armed Forces and Upholder of the Buddhist Religion and all other religions. The King upholds the Dasavidha-Rajadhamma, or the Tenfold Code of Moralities of the Ruler, with his wisdom and abilities. Every constitution provides that the monarch is sacred and inviolable in his person. His sovereign power emanates from the people, and as Head of State, he exercises his legislative power through the Parliament, executive power through the Cabinet headed by a Prime Minister, and judicial power through the courts. The monarch is empowered with the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn whenever the government appears not to administer the state affairs according to the wishes and for the good of the people.

The king has little direct power under the constitution but is a symbol of national identity and unity. The present monarch--who has been on the throne since 1946--commands enormous popular respect and moral authority, which he has used on occasion to resolve political crises that have threatened national stability.

The institution of the monarchy in Thailand has a history going back more than 700 years. Although the revolution made in 1932 changed its status from the center of power to the center of loyalty, this new role has enhanced the status of the monarchy, giving it a unique character and bringing it close to the Thai people's way of life.

Currently, Thai people respect the institution of the monarchy as "the highest reliance" when they face national crisis. For instance, when the conflict between the military government and protesers in May 1992 turned violent, His Majesty the King call the leaders of both sides to compromise, thus bringing about a peaceful solution to the conflict. In 1997, when Thailand faced the beginning of the Asian economic crisis, His Majesty gave wise advice to his suffering people about living a simple life,an economic principle he called the Sufficiency Economy. This concept became well-known and has spread throughout the country.

The concepts of monarchy have their origins in Sukhothai, founded in the early part of the 13th century and generally regarded as the first truly independent Thai capital. Here, particularly under the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great (1279-1300) was born the ideal of a paternalistic ruler alert to the needs of his people and aware of the fact that his duty was to guide them. This is a view markedly different from the divine kingship practiced in other countries, for example by the Khmers.

This paternalistic ideal was at times lost during the long Ayutthaya period, when Khmer influence regarding kingship reappeared, and the monarch became a lofty, inaccessible figure, rarely seen by most citizens. Nevertheless, the four-century era of Ayutthaya witnessed the reigns of some remarkable rulers, whose achievements were far-reaching.

After the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767 and the brief reign of King Taksin at Thonburi, the present Chakri Dynasty of Bangkok was established in 1782. It has carried on much of the tradition of Thai kings as handed down from Ayutthaya. Western influences, however, became more powerful in Southeast Asia during the fourth and fifth reigns of the dynasty, and Thai kings were wise enough to see that some adaptation to Western standards would become necessary in order that Thailand might escape conquest and survive as a sovereign nation. Princes and courtiers began to be sent to study in Europe where democracy was the rule, and in Thailand itself power began to be decentralized as well as divided among capable people outside the immediate circle of the King.

In 1932, however, a group of people quickened the process by staging a bloodless revolution, which transformed the country into a constitutional monarchy in the European model. The then King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) continued to reign as a constitutional monarch but only for a few years before he was forced, by ill health, to abdicate. King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) was chosen to ascend the throne at a tender age and spent his life mostly at study abroad. His unfortunate death in 1946 at the age of 20 brought his younger brother, Bhumibol Adulyadej, to the throne. It was left to King Bhumibol Adulyadej to give the meaning to, as well as set the practical standard for the role of a Thai king within a democratic framework.

Thongnoi Thongyai, one of the most eminent scholars of Thai studies, states that "the monarchy and the monarchists, despite their up and down political fortunes, have probably played the most significant role in shaping Thai democracy since 1932... [w]ith distaste for electoral politics, and in collaboration with the so-called peoples sector, activists and intellectuals, they have undermined electoral democracy in the name of clean politics versus the corruption of politicians."

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