War, civil strife, modernity: Thailand's enduring monarchy

  • Thmey Thmey
  • May 2, 2019 10:39 AM

Bangkok, Thailand |  Coups, war, communist insurgency, violent protests, succession. Thailand's monarchy has survived major upheavals and a turbulent domestic political scene.

The May 4 coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn marks the latest chapter in the nearly 240-year-old Chakri Dynasty. Here is a brief look at key moments for Thailand's revered monarchy.

- Bangkok beginnings -

The ruling Chakri dynasty emerged in 1782. That year King Rama I establishes the new capital of Siam on the banks of the Chao Praya river. It was the beginnings of modern-day Bangkok.

King Chulalongkorn, or Rama V, took power in 1868. Seen as a reformer, he modernised the economy and civil service, sending his children abroad for education. One of his sons, a prince, falls in love with a commoner.

In December 1927, she gives birth to future ruler Bhumibol Adulyadej in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On June 24, 1932, King Prajadhipok falls in a bloodless coup. A constitutional monarchy is introduced by reformers in the government and military.

- A mysterious death -

In 1935, Bhumibol's older brother, Ananda Mahidol, is crowned king of Thailand after his uncle Prajadhipok abdicates. On June 9, 1946, his 18-year-old brother Bhumibol Adulyadej assumes the throne after Ananda dies in a mysterious shooting in his Grand Palace bedroom.

Royalists bring back rituals and customs reinforcing the monarchy's role in Thai society. Bhumibol marries Queen Sirikit on April 28, 1950, a week before his coronation. The king and queen have four children. Their only son is Vajiralongkorn.

- Communist threat and protests -

Thailand was considered a key US ally in the fight against communism as it spread through Southeast Asia. In the 1960s and 1970s, the US flies bombing sorties from bases in the country. Thai troops known as the Queen's Cobras join the fight in Vietnam.

Thailand fights a simmering communist insurgency at home at a time when monarchs were ousted by left-wing forces in Cambodia and Laos.

In October 1973, scores are killed when a military dictatorship cracks down on pro-democracy protests. Bhumibol asks the prime minister to leave the country and later appoints a new premier, leading to a brief flowering of democracy. T

hree years later right-wing militias kill dozens of leftist students at Thammasat University. The same year, 1976, the penalty for breaching Thailand's royal insult law is toughened to 15 years.

- Street violence -

In 1992, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters fill the streets of Bangkok demanding a return to civilian rule. Dozens are killed by the army in what is later known as "Black May".

In a dramatic televised broadcast, the king admonishes the two leaders from each side at the palace and tells them to reconcile, cementing his mythic status as a unifying force.

In 2006, a bloodless coup ousts billionaire and populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra while he is at the UN. The coup sparks years of protests in a country split between Thaksin's supporters -- many of whom are in the rural north –- and his foes among the Bangkok-based elite in the palace, military and bureaucracy. In August 2009, the king makes a rare speech warning that the country could collapse if feuding factions do not unite.

- Rise of Rama X-

Thailand's junta seizes power in 2014 and topples the administration of Thaksin's sister Yingluck after months of violent street protests. In September 2016, the palace announces the king has received treatment for a "severe" blood infection. Bhumibol dies the next month and Thailand is plunged into mourning.

Thailand's junta leader announces Vajiralongkorn as successor. In early 2019, a party linked to Thaksin puts forward Vajiralongkorn's older sister as its prime ministerial candidate, a shock move in a country where the monarchy is nominally above politics.

But Vajiralongkorn scuttles the nomination of Princess Ubolratana, calling it "highly inappropriate". In an unprecedented move, Vajiralongkorn issues a royal command on the eve of March 24 elections.

Quoting a speech from his father, he urges Thais to support "good people" not those that create "chaos". On May 1, mere days before his May 4 coronation, the thrice-divorced Vajiralongkorn announces he has married his longtime consort now known as Queen Suthida. 

© Agence France-Presse

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