Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, also known as King Rama IX, is dead. The Thailand royal palace announced the King died at 15.52hrs, today, October 13, 2016 in the room he has been staying in at Siriraj Hospital off and on since 2009. He was 88-years-old, had ruled the Thai throne for 70 years, and reigned through 17 coups.
King Adulyadej last granted a public audience to mark the 64th anniversary of his coronation in 2013. In September he was seen by those keeping a vigil for his health when he made a brief visit to a Siriraj Hospital shop. Prior to that he was seen in February when he travelled between the hospital and his Bangkok palace where he spent several hours.
Members of the Thailand royal family including Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, and Princess Chulabhorn Walailak, along with the Thai cabinet yesterday rushed to the King’s bedside. Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha tabruptly canceled an official engagement in Chonburi and returned to Bangkok by helicopter due to ‘an urgent matter’.
The seriousness of King Adulyadej’s condition was revealed in a coded palace statement last Sunday. According to the bulletin, King Adulyadej was treated Saturday with haemodialysis to drain cerebrospinal fluid from the brain, causing drops in blood pressure during treatment.
In July a catheter draining fluid from King Adulyadej’s brain was found to need adjusting, while in June the 88-year-old monarch underwent an operation to widen arteries in his heart. Over the past two years King Adulyadej has been treated for a wide range of bacterial infections, breathing difficulties, heart problems and hydrocephalus (a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid often referred to as ‘water on the brain’). In 2007 he suffered the first of several Ischemic strokes.
While Thailand’s royal palace has historically tightly controlled news about King Adulyadej’s health, in recent months updates detailing a string of serious health issues, have become more frequent and more detailed.
The inclusion in this most recent statement that royal physicians ‘recommended that the King suspends royal duties’ sends the clearest signal yet of the gravity of his condition. It also effectively declares him incapable of performing his duties, placing former Thailand prime minister and head of the Privy Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda, as the current Thailand head of state.
Thailand’s rules on royal ascension
According to Section 17 of the 2014 Interim Constitution (which contains the same wording as the 2016 Draft Thailand Constitution and the 2007 Thailand Consitution): ‘In the case where the King does not appoint the Regent under Section 16, or the King is unable to appoint the Regent owing to His not being sui juris or any other reason whatsoever, the Privy Council shall submit the name of a person suitable to hold the office of the Regent to the National Assembly for approval.
‘While there is no Regent under Section 16 or Section17, the President of the Privy Council shall be Regent pro tempore‘, states Section 18 of the 2016 Draft Thailand Constitution
What is meant to happen next is outlined in Section 21: ‘where the Throne becomes vacant and the King has already appointed His Heir to the Throne under the Palace Law on Succession, B.E. 2467, the Council of Ministers shall notify the President of the National Assembly.
‘The President of the National Assembly shall convoke the National Assembly for the acknowledgement thereof, and shall invite such Heir to ascend the Throne and proclaim such Heir the King.
Thailand’s heir apparent
In 1972, King Adulyadej conferred the title ‘Somdech Phra Borama Orasadhiraj Chao Fah Maha Vajiralongkorn Sayam Makutrajakuman‘ on Prince Vajiralongkorn, designating him the Crown Prince and Heir to the throne.
There has not ever been a public announcement that this title has ever been revoked. If it had, Section 21 goes on to say: ‘Where the Throne becomes vacant and the King has not appointed His Heir under Paragraph One, the Privy Council shall submit the name of the Successor to the Throne under Section 20 to the Council of Ministers for further submission to the National Assembly for approval. For this purpose, the name of a Princess may be submitted.
‘Upon the approval of the National Assembly, the President of the National Assembly shall invite such Successor to ascend the Throne and proclaim such Successor the King (Queen).
Privy Council chief becomes regent
That 96-year-old General Tinsulanonda becomes de facto head of state upon the King being unable to perform his duties is further enshrined in Section 22 of the 2016 Draft Thailand Constitution. ‘While pending the proclamation of the name of the Heir or the Successor to the Throne under Section 21, the President of the Privy Council shall be Regent pro tempore.
‘In the event where the Throne becomes vacant while the Regent has been appointed under Section 16 or Section 17 or while the President of the Privy Council is acting as the Regent under Section 18 Paragraph One, such Regent, as the case may be, shall continue to be the Regent until the proclamation of the name of the Heir or the Successor to ascend the Throne as the King (Queen).’
How this will play-out is anyone’s guess. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn and General Tinsulanonda are known to not be close. Over the past 18 months those opposed to the Crown Prince ascending the thrown have consolidated their power.
Many of the Crown Prince’s closest friends, supporters, and relatives on his former wife’s side have ended up in jail. Some have died under mysterious circumstances while undergoing police interrogation.
The government of General Prayut Chan-o-Cha, a close ally and supporter of General Tinsulanonda and fellow Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont, has contributed to that.
Assistant army commander General Chalermchai Sitthisart was recently promoted to Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army (RTA). The promotion surprised many and was a departure from choosing successors from the ‘Burapha Payak’ royalist military faction – known as the ‘Eastern Tigers’ – that propelled junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha to power.
It was also not in line with the wishes of deputy prime minister and Minister of Defence, General Prawit Wongsuwon, who has been described as the ‘elder brother’ of the ‘Burapha Phayak’ or “Eastern Tigers” and is and a supporter of the Crown Prince, who had recommended Thai army chief of staff General Pisit Sitthisarn for the post.
Linked to the Rajabhakti Park corruption scandal, it became widely known that General Tinsulanonda did not favour General Sitthisarn, who was instead made deputy Thai army chief. Last week General Sitthisart reshuffled 307 military positions at the battalion level widely seen as consolidating his command.
Since seizing power in a bloodless coup d’état in May 2014 Thailand’s junta government has maintained strict control over political dissent.
Hundreds of people have been tried before military courts and sentenced to jail terms of up to 30 years under the country’s harsh lese majeste laws which makes detailed discussion of the monarchy all but impossible. Thousands more have been ordered to report to reeducation centres for attitude adjustment, with claims of torture having been made.
Early last month luck finally ran out for Sondhi Limthongkul, leader of the pro-royalist ‘yellow-shirt’ People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) movement which shut down both Bangkok airports and several provincial ones in 2008. After years of successfully posting bail while a number of prior convictions were subject to appeal he was sentenced to 20 years jail for fraud, with the Supreme Court ordering him taken directly to prison.
Earlier this week Thailand’s Criminal Court revoked bail for the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) chairman and former Pheu Thai Party (PTP) politician Jatuporn Prompan, claiming he had broken the bail terms.
Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister under the last Democrat-led government, and Buddhist monk Phra Buddha Issara, who led hundreds of thousands of protesters in 2013/14 in an attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra under the name People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) remain free.
Effects of King Adulyadej’s death
Thailand last experienced the death of a King in 1946 with the death of Ananda Mahidol, who was proclaimed posthumously as Rama VIII. What the ramifications will be following the death of King Adulyadej is anyone’s guess.
In 2008 when Her Royal Highness Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra, elder sister to King Adulyadej died, 100 days of mourning followed.
Television stations broadcast archival footage of her life and work, while ordinary Thais wore black and Thai flags were flown at half mast for 15 days. Entertainment venues were ‘asked’ to refrain from operating for 15 days.
In the first six days after her death more than 118,000 people thronged the Grand Palace to sign the condolences book. In every province throughout Thailand ordinary Thai’s queued to do the same.
The funeral rites, conducted over six days in traditional Thailand Theravada Buddhism tradition, saw a ‘royal crematorium’ that took seven months to construct at a cost of Bt300 million (about $US8.8 million*) built at Sanam Luang, the Royal Lawn in front of the Grand Palace.
However, the death of King Adulyadej will be different. In 2009 when he was hospitalised the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) fell 8.2 per cent before closing down 5.3 per cent, when rumours exaggerating the seriousness of his condition were circulated by SMS/ text messages.
Prior to the Thailand referendum two months ago credible rumours circulated that the King was gravely ill. While no out of the ordinary announcements have been made apart from last Sunday, the SET has fallen 7.4 per cent over the last six weeks up to the close of trade on October 11 – plummeting 6.9 per cent, when the exchange resumed its afternoon session today, before closing down 2.50 per cent on the day’s trade. On Monday Xinhua English news linked an almost 3 per cent drop in opening trade to King Adulyadej’s ailing health.
With some 85 per cent of the population under 90 years of age, King Adulyadej is the only monarch the vast majority of Thailand’s population have ever known.
Thailand government officials will observe 100 days of mourning during which all citizens are encouraged to wear black attire. The Thai national flag will be flown at half-mast throughout the country and at foreign missions abroad for 30-days. Entertainment venues will be closed and the sale of packaged alcohol suspended for an as yet undetermined time.
Prime Minister Chan-o-cha has announced that Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will succeed his father as the next King of Thailand, Rama X. When his coronation will take place has not as yet been announced
This article was first published on October 12, 2016 as End Of Days: Thailand Prepares For King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Death
Editorial Note: The end of days refers to an end of a period of happiness and certainty and future full of the unknown, in much the same way as the Lord Buddha predicted his teachings would be forgotten after 5,000 years, followed by turmoil. There is little doubt that the death of King Adulyadej will have a profound effect on the people of Thailand and usher in an uncertain future.
AEC News Today was aware of the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej earlier this afternoon. We opted to not publish an update until the death was announced officially several hours later. It is the job of a doctor to pronounce a person dead, not the media. We extend our sincerest sympathies to the people of Thailand at this time of great loss.
This article was updated at 10:05am on October 13, 2016: The word posthumously had been incorrectly spelled as post-humorously.
*At 2008 exchange rate
- Draft Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 2016 (United Nations)
- Thai King’s Health Unstable after Haemodialysis Treatment, Says Royal Palace (Latin America Herald Tribune)