Thais enter year of mourning

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej during a 1970s documentary. Source: Wikimedia

A year of mourning has been announced following the death of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch, aged 88.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said entertainment must be “toned down” for a month, the media reported, while tourists were being advised to moderate their behaviour. “You should respect the feelings and sensitivities of the Thai people at this time,” the British Foreign Office said. “Access to entertainment, including restaurants, bars and shopping areas may be restricted and you should behave respectfully when in public areas; if possible, wear sombre and respectful clothing when in public; check local media regularly and follow the advice of local authorities.”

The king had a god-like role for his people, with an atmosphere of deep loss sweeping Thailand and huge public displays of mourning.

Reuters said extra troops were being deployed around the country to increase national security.

Born in 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his father Prince Mahidol was studying medicine at Harvard, Bhumibol was educated in Switzerland. He was crowned after King Ananda Mahidol, his elder brother and a firearms enthusiast, was shot dead in 1946 in Bangkok’s Grand Palace. The suspicious circumstances of his death raised rumours of suicide or murder and have never been addressed.

A saxophonist who once played with Benny Goodman, he also revived archaic practices such as prostration, which were abandoned by a 19th-century monarch.

Bhumibol’s great achievements were to rebuild respect for the monarchy after Ananda’s death and the loss of its absolute power after a military coup in 1932.

The sale and consumption of alcohol may be banned for a short period, as is often the case for religious occasions and elections in Thailand, although it is currently understood that shopping centres, tourist attractions and beaches will remain open.

Bhumibol revered status was supported by the US during the Cold War as communists overthrew other monarchies in the region. The former engineering student domestically became a modernising “developer king”, travelling rural areas to promote high-profile irrigation projects. The schemes were never independently scrutinised.

While not appearing to live an opulent lifestyle, Bhumibol oversaw the expansion of the Crown Property Bureau and other investment vehicles into an opaque royal treasure chest with an estimated value of tens of billions of dollars.