Why is the Passing of Thailand’s King a Big Deal?

Image: Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

October 16, 2016 (Tony Cartalucci – NEO) – The passing of Thailand’s head of state, the 88 year old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, marks a historically significant event in Thailand’s history. For most Thais, they have known only one king their entire life – King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The significance of Thailand’s monarchy to Thai people is difficult for Westerners to understand. Unlike Western monarchies who rule from above, Thailand’s monarchy has historically ruled through service to the people. It is in recognition of this service that drives hundreds of thousands of Thais into the streets of Bangkok to participate in the beginning of funeral rites this week.

The depth and scope of this service includes not only the political boundaries and stability the monarchy provided when politicians and political parties clashed within the nation, but also service in driving long-term infrastructure projects regarding irrigation, energy, and agriculture shortsighted politicians refused to pursue.

Many aspects of Thai agriculture, from the introduction of new crops to the concept of cooperatives and localizing rice mills, were introduced through initiatives promoted and funded by the Royal Family itself. King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s royal palace in Bangkok was many years ago converted into a demonstration and training center where today, foreigners and Thais alike can augment their skills and diversify their economic activity.

Politically, the monarchy’s ability to reside above contests of political power and the deep respect Thais hold for the institution, creates a set of boundaries that have prevented dangerous – even violent political struggles – from expanding into the sort of destructive conflicts seen previously in neighboring Cambodia or currently expanding across the Middle East.

For Thailand’s enemies who seek to undermine political stability or overthrow Thailand’s political order, their primary obstacle and thus target has always been the nation’s revered, powerful monarchy. The passing of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej presents a perceived vulnerability Thailand’s enemies will undoubtedly seek to exploit to weaken Thailand and thus by doing so, disrupt regional stability.

Thailand’s Importance to Southeast Asia 

Thailand is a prominent Southeast Asian nation, home to 70 million people, a dynamic and diverse economy ranging from agriculture to manufacturing, and remains the only nation in the region to have eluded Western colonization.

It has played a pivotal role throughout history, leveraging colonial powers against one another before the World Wars, a battlefield during World War 2, a contributing  factor to France’s loss of Indochina and host to US military forces during the Vietnam War.

Since the conflict in Vietnam, Thailand has slowly and incrementally pivoted away from its role in US regional hegemony toward a more balanced place in the region.

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