WASHINGTON, DC – Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death was long anticipated, but it still came as a profound shock to Thailand. When it was announced, vast crowds gathered in towns and cities to weep and pay homage to their monarch, who had reigned for seven decades.
Thailand’s stock market has fluctuated, and the country has entered a period of uncertainty. Most Thais have never known any other king, and Bhumibol inspired great devotion during a time of enormous political and economic change. During his reign, Thailand was transformed from a poor country into Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.
Bhumibol was Thailand’s most influential political figure, despite technically being a constitutional monarch like the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II. Absolute monarchy formally ended in 1932, and what remained of it was endangered by 1950, when Bhumibol was formally enthroned. But he worked tirelessly to restore the influence of the palace.
During Bhumibol’s reign, royalists, in alliance with the military, rebuilt the monarchy’s image. The king represented stability during a period of repeated coups and wars in Indochina, and the United States and other foreign powers embraced him. He exercised vast economic influence, with the Crown Property Bureau – reportedly worth more than $30 billion – controlling some of Thailand’s most valuable real estate and other assets. And yet he created a reputation for supporting and protecting the poor.