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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 lese majeste.


Thailand's Monarchy
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."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic


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 it. 

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.

King of Thailand

"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.

lese majesteThe 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 opposed 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 King. 

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 displayed. 
 

 

 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 Monarchy

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 disappointment. 

The king position was passed down to Prajadhipok's 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.

In the 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 other monarch.

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 border.  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 Daksin Palace

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.   
Thailand king water project water project ThailandThailand monk
 Too many kingly duties to have time to lounge on a deck chair in Monte Carlo
 
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 republics. 



 

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Innovative Internet Secrets

 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?