“I’ve lived long enough. I’ve lost before. But I’ve never lost my king”
On Thursday afternoon, the people of Thailand were shocked to hear to the news that King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving monarch, had died. The king was 88 years old.
“The king is the heart of the Thai people. I’ve lived long enough. I’ve lost before. But I’ve never lost my king,” Akarawat Teera-areeyawikul, a 62-year-old resident, told The Wall Street Journal.
As The New York Times reports, Thai people viewed “this Buddhist king as a father figure wholly dedicated to their welfare and as the embodiment of stability in a country where political leadership rose and fell through decades of military coups.”
In his last hours, thousands of supporters surrounded his hospital, clad in pink—an auspicious color in Thai culture—to offer their gratitude, prayers, and support.
Crowd at Siriraj Hospital, singing & praying for departed King Bhumibol..a sad & moving scene #Thailand https://t.co/6LayRt2i8o— Thomas Maresca (@Thomas Maresca) 1476370000
#Thailand mourns the death of their beloved King #Bhumibol 'He is our father' https://t.co/nNf3UQkVqp https://t.co/dv1I7DsWFW— Will Ripley (@Will Ripley) 1476368314
People in Thailand mourn their king after the announcement of his death. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was the world's l… https://t.co/m7KbNeUaFe— AJ+ (@AJ+) 1476363242
King Bhumibol took the throne on May 5, 1950, and quickly became a uniting figure in the tumultuous country—though he only came to power through violent happenstance after his older brother, Ananda Mahidol, was shot dead in his sleep. The circumstances surrounding his murder still remain a mystery and a source of great controversy for the people of Thailand.
His successor and only son, however, may not be able to play such a unifying role.
The thrice-divorced Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, famous for making his pet poodle an air chief marshal, will now assume the throne, much to the disdain of his future subjects.
Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a British journalist, told The Guardian, that while the monarchy attempted to cover up Prince Maha’s more extravagant exploits, the people of Thailand still know their prince is up to no good.
“The lèse-majesté law criminalises publication of the prince’s exploits, but despite this, or indeed because of this, Thais have voracious interest in informal royal information and gossip, which they share privately with those they trust,” Marshall said. “Almost all Thais know about the exploits of the crown prince, who has been a hated figure in Thailand since the 1970s.”
In his place, the people of Thailand, along with officials, instead hoped one of the king’s daughters, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, would be his heir. Though the country has never had a ruling queen, Maha, who has never married and devoted her life to serving alongside her father, is much beloved by the Thai people and the watching outside world.
In 2010, a leaked diplomatic cable by the late Air Chief Marshal Siddhi Savetsila, expressed, almost hopefully, that “If the Crown Prince were to die, anything could happen, and maybe Prathep [Sirindhorn] could succeed.”
And it’s not just his playboy reputation that proceeds him. Prince Maha is also known to be a ruthless leader, even imprisoning his former wife’s parents for insulting the monarchy in 2015. Both are currently serving more than two years in prison.
For now, the world will have to wait and see what happens next in Thailand. In a statement Thursday morning, President Obama expressed his sadness at the loss of King Bhumibol saying,
"As the revered leader and only monarch that most Thais have ever known, His Majesty was a tireless champion of his country's development and demonstrated unflagging devotion to improving the standard of living of the Thai people.”
Following King Bhumibol’s death, Queen Elizabeth, the ruling queen of England, becomes the world’s newest longest-serving monarch. The king is survived by his wife and four children.