The last divine monarchy

The moral authority of Thailand’s king shields less godlike interests.

Thailand’s ruler, the frail, 86 year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, makes only rare appearances these days. Yet during the recent protests in Bangkok, his portrait was ubiquitous, as were chants and posters proclaiming “Long live the king”. Why? After all, the throne is above the political fray. But by displaying their devotion to ‘the Father’, as he is known at home, the royalist-nationalist crowds legitimate themselves, taking refuge behind pro- Thai slogans.

And simultaneously betray the growing fear that plagues the most dyed-in-thewool monarchists when faced with the inevitable physical decline of a king they believe to be semi-divine. In modern-day Thailand, Bhumibol is the central figure. On the throne since 1946, for the overwhelming majority of Thais the king and the monarchy as an institution are one and the same.

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