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King Bhumibol Adulyadej – in remembrance of the “Father of Thailand”

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His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was Thailand’s monarch for just over 70 years. At the time of his passing in October 2016, King Bhumibol was the world’s longest-serving head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. Amongst his many other gifts, he was was revered as a calming and compassionate influence, overseeing Thailand’s stormy political history in the second half of the 20th century.

Four years later his enduring legacy casts a wide shadow over the Kingdom of Thailand with his influence shaping, not only Thai culture in the second half of the 20th century, but also Thailand’s standing in the region with a deft avoidance of some of the more debilitating conflicts around South East Asia.

His Majesty King Bhumibol, Rama 9, the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty, was born on December 5, 1927 and passed away on October 13, 2016 at the Siriraj Piyamaharajkarun Hospital in Bangkok. He had been living in and out of the hospital in the years before his passing.

Bhumibol’s early days

It’s a surprise to some, but Bhumibol Adulyadej was born on December 5, 1927, in Massachusetts, USA, not in Thailand. As the second son born to his parents, and because his birth took place outside of Thailand, young Bhumibol was never expected to ascend Thailand’s throne. His reign came about through his older brother’s mysterious death.

His father, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, was studying for a public health certificate at Harvard University. His mother, Princess Srinagarindra, was studying nursing at the same time.

When Bhumibol was a one year old the family returned to Thailand, where his father took up an internship in a hospital in Chiang Mai. Prince Mahidol died of kidney and liver failure in September 1929.

Thailand’s democratic revolution

In 1932, a coalition of military officers and civil servants staged a bloodless coup against King Rama VII. The Revolution of 1932 ended the Chakri dynasty’s absolute rule and created a Thai constitutional monarchy, with an elected parliament. Princess Srinagarindra took her two young sons and daughter to Switzerland a year later where the children were placed in Swiss schools for their early education.

In March 1935, King Rama VII abdicated leaving his 9 year old nephew, Bhumibol Adulyadej’s older brother Ananda Mahidol as Thailand’s new monarch. But the child-king and his siblings remained in Switzerland due to his young age and nascent political developments in Thailand. Two regents ruled the kingdom in his name. Ananda returned to Thailand in 1938 but his brother Bhumibol continued his schooling in Switzerland until 1945 .

King Bhumibol Adulyadej - in remembrance of the

PHOTO: King Mahidol Adulyadej and his younger brother Bhumibol Adulyadej

On June 9, 1946, the young King Mahidol was killed in his palace bedroom from a single gunshot wound to the head. Two royal pages and the king’s personal secretary were convicted of assassination and executed, although controversy still swirls around the incident. The young Bhumibol returned to the University of Lausanne in Switzerland to complete his degree and his uncle was appointed Regent, ruling in his place, back in Thailand.

Marriage to Queen Sirikit

The young King Bhumibol met the daughter of the Thai ambassador to France, a student named Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kiriyakara, during a visit to Paris. Adulyadej and Sirikit began a courtship some time in 1946.

In October 1948, Adulyadej crashed into a truck and was seriously injured, losing his right eye and suffering back injuries. Sirikit spent a lot of time nursing and entertaining the convalescing king. King Bhumibol’s mother encouraged Sirikit to transfer to a school in Lausanne so that she could continue her studies and spend more time with the young King.

Adulyadej and Sirikit were married in Bangkok on April 28, 1950. She was 17 and he was 22 years old. Bhumibol was officially crowned a week later to becmme King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Queen Mother Sirikit is still living in Bangkok and is frequently visited by members of the Royal Family.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej - in remembrance of the

King Bhumibol Adulyadej - in remembrance of the

PHOTO: King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Queen Sirikit and his four children (a young Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn on the left)

Half a century of military dictatorships

In the early days of his reign, Thailand was ruled by a military dictator, Plaek Pibulsonggram, until 1957. Then the first of a series of coups, which would dog the Kingdom for the second half of the 20th century, removed him from office. The King declared martial law ending with a new military dictatorship formed under a trusted ally of King Bhumibol, Sarit Dhanarajata.

During the next phase of his rule the young King would revive many abandoned Chakri traditions, including the need for subjects and staff to kowtow – bowing and keeping their head below the monarch. He also started to make public appearances around the Kingdom – an activity which would become a hallmark of his reign, significantly reviving the prestige of the Thai monarchy and standing of the royal family.

Coups took place in 1963, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1985, and 1991 (and more in the 21st century). Although King Bhumibol worked hard to remain above politics, he refused to support the 1981 and 1985 coups, and was seen as a settling influence in the swirling political events, stepping in only when the situation needed to be diplomatically diffused.

Democratic governments

When a military coup leader was selected as PM in May 1992, huge protests broke out around Thailand. Known as ‘Black May’, the demonstrations turned into riots. Fearing a civil war, Kong Bhumibol called the coup and opposition leaders to a televised audience at the palace.

Adulyadej pressured the coup leader to resign. New elections were called and a civilian government was elected. This intervention was the beginning of civilian-led democracy that has continued, with a few military “interruptions”, to this day, most notably the intervention of the military in a coup in 2014 when the National Committee for Peace and Order seized power. A quasi-democratic government, mostly made up of leadership from the 2014 Army coup, was elected in 2019.

King Bhumibol’s image as an advocate for the Thai people, reluctantly intervening in the political fray to protect his subjects, became an enduring legacy.

Death

Since 2006, King Bhumibol suffered a number of health issues and was hospitalised frequently. He died at the Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok on October 16, 2016. Crown prince Maha Vajiralongkorn became the 10th King of the Chakri Dynasty, and his official coronation was held between May 4 – 6, 2019 in a grand spectacle watched on by millions of Thais.

Although Bhumibol was never intended to be Thailand’s king, he is lovingly remembered as a successful and beloved Thai monarch, who helped calm successive political turbulence over the seven decades of his reign. Indeed, he is fondly referred to as the Father of Thailand, reigning for more than 70 years.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej - in remembrance of the

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Dreamon

    October 13, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    5 May 1789 just do it.

  2. Avatar

    Maag

    October 13, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    The father of the nation….a great King . We all miss him !

  3. Avatar

    Jason

    October 14, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    I am an Australian. My first trip to Thailand was at the time His Majesty had died. I saw how much he was loved by His people. On my second visit, it was the time of His Funeral. Millions came to Bangkok to view His body lying in state in the Royal Palace. On my third visit to Thailand, it was the time of His cremation. I witnessed the grand procession of His ashes to the site that was built for it. I witnessed the burning of the sandalwood flowers that His subjects from all over the Kingdom had made for the one the Thai People called “My King”. On my last visit before the Covid pandemic, the Kings Son ascended the throne after a period of mourning. It seems every time I come toThailand, something momentous happens. I remember His Majesty with great respect. Through His long life he managed to get things done. If the government stood in His path, He would simply declare the project a “Royal Project” and would do something great, that needed to be done for His people! I hope the Thai people will be worthy of His Legacy! I hope they will do Him proud! To the ordinary people of Thailand….never forget your dying King! He still hopes so much for you….make Him proud!

  4. Avatar

    Paul D McCarty

    October 16, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    Is No. 10’s son really the son of the devil? What POS no. 10 is.

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Events

St Mark’s International School ‘breaks ground’ with their new Bangkok campus

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St Mark’s International School ‘breaks ground’ with their new Bangkok campus | The Thaiger

St Mark’s International School celebrated a groundbreaking event last Saturday by literally ‘breaking ground,’ by conducting a ceremonial dig on their new proposed campus in Bangkok. The successful Christian International School has been operating out of their current Rama 9 Campus for the last 20 years and is now planning to expand exponentially when the new campus in Sri Nakarin Road to the east of Bangkok is completed in 2022.

David Jackson, the British Head of Primary said that this new development celebrates a positive milestone in our development.

“As a successful International school specialising in maths and science supported by our successful tri-lingual languages program the teaching team are looking forward to using our new state of the art facilities for the benefit of our students.”

The event was attended by a number of dignitaries including Pastor Martin Chapel from the Calvary Baptist Church, Bangkok alongside Mr Owen Grant a representative from the Australian School Curriculum and Standards Authority plus former and current parents and students who were very complimentary of the school.

The school’s director, John Ruangmenthanon explained how the school will be augmenting their existing IGCSE and A-level system by introducing the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank for senior students which will enable St Mark’s International School pupils direct access to universities both in Australia and worldwide.

For more details please visit St Mark’s International School website HERE.

St Mark's International School 'breaks ground' with their new Bangkok campus | News by The Thaiger

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Events

Remembering the Thammasat University Massacre – October 6, 1976

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Remembering the Thammasat University Massacre – October 6, 1976 | The Thaiger

The actual events that preceded the incident started a few weeks before when the tortured corpses of 2 electricity workers were found hanging on September 24, 1976, just north of Bangkok.

You also need to put the incident into the context of the mid-1970s and the events swirling around South East Asia. Next door the Americans had just lost the Vietnam War, Loas was over-run by a communist government, and the Khmer Rouge had taken advantage of the instability in Cambodia to impose a bloody, xenophobic and paranoid communist dystopia.

In Thailand the politics of the time was becoming more polarised with a right-wing, loyalist faction backed by the army, and a left-leaning socialist rump, with the student movement leading the way.

The return of two highly divisive former tyrannic leaders of Thailand, who had been in exile for three years, at the same time, added more fuel for protests and political unrest.

The discovery of the 2 dead bodies sparked new protests, which culminated in the bloody crackdown by police, army and a right-wing militia at the Thammasat University campus and adjacent Sanam Luang on the morning of October 6, 1976.

The official death toll was 45 and 145 people injured, but unofficial accounts claim that more than 100 were killed.

The temporary museum uses a range of media to describe the lead up to the massacre, the carnage of that bloody morning, along with vivid images and sounds of the day’s fateful events.

One of the volunteers for the current exhibition is Yannisa and we asked her why it was important to stage the pop up museum…

The display, mostly in Thai, has many photos, some of them synonymous with the incident, others rare insights into some of the people involved at the time. Some of those people were involved with putting the exhibition together.

When you walk into the main hall you’re confronted with a huge landscape photographic mural where augmented reality overlays shadows from the massacre onto today’s peaceful photo of Sanam Luang.

The pop up museum is staged, not only on the 44th anniversary of the Thammasat University Massacre, but at a time when the latest round of student protests are getting louder again. For an entire generation of Thais, the Massacre casts a dark shadow on all political discourse since the event. But now a younger generation is making sure the memories remain fresh, and as a reminder that political over-reach can easily spill over to violence.

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Events

44 years on – the 1976 Thammasat University Massacre

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44 years on – the 1976 Thammasat University Massacre | The Thaiger

An exhibition has been assembled to commemorate the 44th anniversary of the Thammasat University Massacre that occurred on October 6, 1976. The ‘pop up’ museum has been assembled at the University’s Tha Prachan campus, right next to the front gate of the University, and only metres away from where the events of that fateful day occurred.

The exhibition attempts to portray the horrors of the massacre and the events that led up to it. The displays include photos, interactive displays, with volunteers to provide explanations. There are many vivid images and sounds of the day’s fateful events, 44 years ago, today.

44 years on - the 1976 Thammasat University Massacre | News by The Thaiger

Political, economic and ideological factors at the time caused Thai society to polarise into socialist-minded left, and conservative and royalist right camps.

The unfolding of the massacre in 1976, 44 years ago, started a few weeks before October 6, when the tortured corpses of 2 electricity officials, sympathetic to the left, were found hanging on September 24, in Nakhon Pathom, north of Bangkok. The discovery of these bodies sparked a series of protests, culminating in the bloody crackdown by police and army at the Thammasat University campus 2 weeks later.

In the mid 1970s, communist forces had taken control across the South East Asian region. In 1975, Thailand’s neighbour Laos had fallen to communist troops who deposed their monarchy, while North Vietnam had defeated the Americans and South Vietnam in the drawn out Vietnam war. In Cambodia a horrific genocide was underway led by the ruthless Khmer Rouge whose intent was to take ‘Kampuchea’ back to ‘Year Zero’ in a textbook communist dystopia.

Thailand was struggling with its own communist insurgency, along with political instability and a faltering economy. After their success of ousting the ‘dictator’Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn just 3 years before, Thais protested to demand greater freedoms and a more just society.

Turmoil in Thailand

The protests gathered pace when word spread that two widely vilified Thai leaders, exiled after the “people’s uprising” of 1973, were heading back to Thailand.

On August 16, 1976, it was reported that Field Marshal Prapas Charusathien had returned. 3 days later, about 10,000 protesters marched from Sanam Luang to Thammasat University’s football field and camped there overnight. More university students joined the protest, prompting Prapas to flee Thailand again on August 22.

The other exiled leader to attempt a return was Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn. He been sent into exile just 3 years earlier by the people’s uprising. Thais were appalled when Thanom, widely dubbed a “tyrant” and “dictator”, and whose government was notoriously corrupt. The government of the time, led by MR Seni Pramoj, at first declined Field Marshal Thanom’s plea to be allowed to return from exile to attend to the health of his elderly father.

On September 19, the government relented and Thanom returned to Thailand, donned the saffron robes of a monk and was instantly ordained at Wat Bowonniwet Vihara. He was also visited by the Thai King and the Queen.

The government’s about-face would prove to be a crucial error.

His presence further polarised the fragile Thai political divides. The country’s right wing used the anti-communist rhetoric of the day to accuse the protesters, and their attempts to kick out the recently returned Thanom, as a left-wing rump who supported the communists.

Timeline of a Massacre

On September 23, a heated parliamentary debate prompted Thai PM Seni to resign after the left and right wings of his party failed to find a compromise to deal with Thanom. HM King Bhumibol would order the prime minister’s re-instatement just 2 days later.

On September 24, the bodies of the 2 electrical officials, who had been part of protests to oust Thanom, were found hanged at the Red Gate in the main city district of Nakhon Pathom. Student leaders were able to find direct photographic evidence of the crime and its political nature.

On September 25, student leaders issued two demands – for Thanom to be exiled and for the murderers of Wichai and Chumporn to be brought to justice.

On September 29, more than 20,000 students gathered at Sanam Luang field near Thammasat to voice the demands. Other protests sprang up in other parts of the country. Many of the protesters were attacked by right-wing thugs describing themselves as patriots.

On October 4, Seni revealed that a group of policemen were behind the killings of Wichai and Chumporn. Dozens of right-wing thugs descended on Sanam Luang to intimidate the protesters. In response, the students took refuge in the campus.

On October 5, the Bangkok Post inflamed the situation when it published a report and photo of a student play about the lynching and hanging of the 2 men. A right-leaning newspaper called Dao Siam published the same photo, claiming one of the students shown hanging bore a resemblance to the Crown Prince, now Thailand’s King. In a story headlined “Stomping on the Hearts of Thais across the Country”, it claimed the play was a deliberate insult to the Prince.

The play’s performers immediately tried to clear up the confusion, but by then several right-wing radio stations and other media had started describing the protesting students as “insurgents”.

Tensions finally boiled over on the morning of October 6, when security forces surrounded the Thammasat University Tha Prachan campus and opened fire on the defenceless protesting students. Ultra-right-wing militias joined the attack and stormed the gates of the university. Students were beaten and killed on the spot or dragged out and lynched on neighbouring Sanam Luang in front of baying mobs. The official death toll was 45. Of the dead many were state officials, with 145 people injured. Unofficial accounts claim that more than 100 were killed.

Some corpses were hanged on trees, just over the road from the university, and beaten in front of the assembled crowd. One image, taken by AP photographer Neal Ulevich, captured the senseless brutality and madness of the morning on film; the most famous is the photo of a mutilated corpse dangling from a treeas a man gleefully smashes the lifeless body with a plastic chair. The crowd looks on, some even laughing. That photo would go on to haunt Thai politics for decades following.

Neal’s images won him the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography.

44 years on - the 1976 Thammasat University Massacre | News by The Thaiger

The exhibition

Priyakorn Pusawiro is a “creative technologist” at Thonburi’s King Mongkut’s University of Technology and worked as a key contributor to the exhibition.

“We present the facts here for experience-based learning, but we hope young visitors will seek more knowledge of October 6’s events after they leave the exhibition.”

Other key contributors are Thanapol Eawsakul of Fah Diew Kan (Same Sky) magazine, Pataraporn Puthong who has produced documentaries and an archive of the events of October 6 at (doct6.com), and architect Benjamas Winitchakul.

Assistant Professor Prajak Kongkirati, a lecturer at Tammasat’s Political Science Faculty, says the commemoration should serve as a warning to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“While revisiting the past at this museum, we should think about how to prevent such things from recurring … what precautions we can take.”

The displays also put the incident into context with geopolitical turmoil in the region at the time.

Professor Thongchai Winichakul remembers being the last person to speak on stage at that protest. Addressing the media to commemorate the incident, he recalled saying, “Please stop firing. We are unarmed. Our protest is peaceful.”

He recalled that he had been speaking for more than an hour in the hope of protecting thousands of people in the campus from the armed attack. He said he was enraged, scared, hopeless, sad, ashamed and crying as protesters ran for their lives in the chaos.

Thongchai ended up arrested and detained, alongside many of his friends, as the coup unfurled in Bangkok.

44 years on - the 1976 Thammasat University Massacre | News by The Thaiger44 years on - the 1976 Thammasat University Massacre | News by The Thaiger44 years on - the 1976 Thammasat University Massacre | News by The Thaiger

In the aftermath of the bloody incident, the military dictatorship, which had ruled Thailand for more than a decade, was overthrown. The unstable political climate which, made worse by the existence of fragile coalition governments, frequent strikes and protests, and the rise of communist governments in neighbouring countries, forced the hand of two separate factions of the Thai army to launch another coup in order to restore order.

No one ever faced justice for the bloody massacre or for the hanging of the two men on September 24, 1976.

A newly elected government, in the wake of the incident and a subsequent coup, had an official stance of “forgive and forget”. The Thai public remained largely silent and public discussion of the events of October 1976, to this day, spark a raw nerve in political circles, and open discussion about the Thammasat University Massacre is not supported by the current government of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The exhibition runs this week until Sunday, October 11. Enter the main gate and it’s in the large building to your left. Entry is free.

On October 14, student protesters will hold another rally at the Democracy Monument as the demonstrations turn their attention to the Thai military’s involvement in politics.

SOURCES: AP Archives | Wikipedia | Thai PBS World | Thammasat University

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