War, civil strife, modernity: Thailand's enduring monarchy

Thailand's monarchy has survived major upheavals and a turbulent domestic political scene.

People raise portraits of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn near the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

People raise portraits of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn near the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Source: AAP

Coups, war, communist insurgency, violent protests, succession have marked the nearly 240-year history of Thailand's monarchy.

The May 4 coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his new queen Suthida mark the latest chapter in the Chakri Dynasty.

Here is a brief look at key moments for Thailand's revered monarchy.

Bangkok beginnings

The ruling Chakri dynasty emerged in 1782.

That year King Rama I establishes the new capital of Siam on the banks of the Chao Praya river. It was the beginnings of modern-day Bangkok.

The Grand Palace on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok in 1930.
Source: AAP

King Chulalongkorn, or Rama V, took power in 1868. Seen as a reformer, he modernised the economy and civil service, sending his children abroad for education.

One of his sons, a prince, falls in love with a commoner. In December 1927, she gives birth to future ruler Bhumibol Adulyadej in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

On June 24, 1932, King Prajadhipok falls in a bloodless coup. A constitutional monarchy is introduced by reformers in the government and military.

A mysterious death

In 1935, Bhumibol's older brother, Ananda Mahidol, is crowned king of Thailand after his uncle Prajadhipok abdicates.

On June 9, 1946, his 18-year-old brother Bhumibol Adulyadej assumes the throne after Ananda dies in a mysterious shooting in his Grand Palace bedroom.

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej lights a candle with Thai Queen Sirikit by his side, in the Royal Grand Palace in Bangkok on 3 May 2006.
Source: AAP

Royalists bring back rituals and customs reinforcing the monarchy's role in Thai society.

Bhumibol marries Queen Sirikit on April 28, 1950, a week before his coronation.

The king and queen have four children. Their only son is Vajiralongkorn.

Communist threat and protests

Thailand was considered a key US ally in the fight against communism as it spread through Southeast Asia.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the US flies bombing sorties from bases in the country. Thai troops known as the Queen's Cobras join the fight in Vietnam.

Thailand fights a simmering communist insurgency at home at a time when monarchs were ousted by left-wing forces in Cambodia and Laos.

In October 1973, scores are killed when a military dictatorship cracks down on pro-democracy protests.

Bhumibol asks the prime minister to leave the country and later appoints a new premier, leading to a brief flowering of democracy.

Three years later right-wing militias kill dozens of leftist students at Thammasat University.

The same year, 1976, the penalty for breaching Thailand's royal insult law is toughened to 15 years.

Street violence

In 1992, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters fill the streets of Bangkok demanding a return to civilian rule. Dozens are killed by the army in what is later known as "Black May".

In a dramatic televised broadcast, the king admonishes the two leaders from each side at the palace and tells them to reconcile, cementing his mythic status as a unifying force.

A motorbike drives past to thick smoke after anti-government protesters and supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra set fires in protest.
Source: AAP

In 2006, a bloodless coup ousts billionaire and populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra while he is at the UN.

The coup sparks years of protests in a country split between Thaksin's supporters -- many of whom are in the rural north –- and his foes among the Bangkok-based elite in the palace, military and bureaucracy.

In August 2009, the king makes a rare speech warning that the country could collapse if feuding factions do not unite.

Protesters put water on picture of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra after leaders called off their rally outside the government house in Bangkok.
Source: AAP

Rama X and Queen Suthida

Thailand's junta seizes power in 2014 and topples the administration of Thaksin's sister Yingluck after months of violent street protests.

In September 2016, the palace announces the king has received treatment for a "severe" blood infection. Bhumibol dies the next month and Thailand is plunged into mourning.

Thailand's junta leader announces Vajiralongkorn as successor.

Thailand King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (Rama X), with Queen Suthida.


In early 2019, a party linked to Thaksin puts forward Vajiralongkorn's older sister as its prime ministerial candidate, a shock move in a country where the monarchy is nominally above politics.

Vajiralongkorn scuttles the nomination of Princess Ubolratana, calling it "highly inappropriate".

Days before Vajiralongkorn's May 4 coronation the palace announces he has married Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya, a former flight attendant who joined his royal guard.

She is invested as Queen during the first day of the ceremony.

Published 5 May 2019 at 12:25pm, updated 5 May 2019 at 12:50pm
Source: AFP - SBS