Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej dies at 88

Revered monarch who ruled the Southeast Asian nation since 1946 passes after a lengthy series of illnesses.

Thailand’s venerated King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, has died at the age of 88, the Royal Palace announced.

King Bhumibol passed away at Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital on Thursday. The palace did not give a reason for his death.

“His Majesty has passed away at Siriraj Hospital peacefully,” a statement said, adding he died at 15:52 (08:52 GMT).

The highly revered monarch spent most of the past decade hospitalised for a variety of ailments, including kidney and lung problems.

The palace recently said the octogenarian had been in a “not stable” condition for several days after receiving dialysis treatment.

OBITUARY: Remembering Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol

Bhumibol had been Thailand’s king since 1946 and had earned the deepest respect from the vast majority of Thais.

A constitutional monarch with no formal political role, Bhumibol was widely regarded as Thailand’s unifying figure in the nation’s fractious political scene.

King Bhumibol leads his only son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, for his ordination into the Buddhist monkhood [Getty Images]
King Bhumibol leads his only son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, for his ordination into the Buddhist monkhood [Getty Images]

Since 1932, Thailand has witnessed 19 coups, including 12 successful ones. The latest was in 2014 and installed the current military government led by former army general Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Bhumibol was the revered “father of the nation”. Thais are taught about the king’s public service efforts at school, cinema-goers have to stand for the royal anthem at the start of films, and people prostrated themselves in his presence.

Giant portraits of the king – and Queen Sirikit, 84 – pepper towns and cities across the country, while photos of the monarch adorn many Thai households.

Helped by well-publicised rural development projects, the soft-spoken, bespectacled king enjoyed an image of a benevolent moral force in a kingdom with a long history of instability and political bloodshed.

IN PICTURES: The life of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Parichart Kaewsin, 35, who works in a bank, stood at the edge of the Siriraj hospital garden, gazing up at the top floor of the building where the king was treated.

“I knew he was sick but I still can’t believe this day has come,” she said, choking back tears. “That’s why I came here – to hear for myself. He was like our dad.”

Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from the capital Bangkok, said the government announced a mourning period of one year. 

“He had been a fabric of Thai life for the last 70 years that he has reigned as king. He has been partially lifted up to a god-like status here, because of what he has done for this country,” said Heidler.

Born on December 5, 1927 in the United States, Bhumibol came to the throne aged 18 in 1946 when his brother was shot dead in mysterious circumstances at the Royal Palace in Bangkok.

He was crowned four years later after finishing his studies in Switzerland.

The same year, he married Queen Sirikit and they had four children – three girls and a boy.

As his health deteriorated, the king’s participation in public affairs sharply declined in recent years.

Concern about succession has been entwined with Thailand’s political turmoil over the past decade. Widely viewed as the choice for the next king, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn hasn’t garnered the same respect and adoration as his father.

Thailand bids farewell to King Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch

Vajiralongkorn – who lives mostly in Germany – flew back to Bangkok on Wednesday. An announcement for succession is expected to come soon from the Royal Palace.

Criticism, speculation, even mundane discussion about the monarchy can bring serious repercussions under Thailand’s “lese majeste” law – with jail terms of up to 15 years for those convicted.

“The issues of the succession of the throne can always be rather tricky and it’s not something people will be able to discuss critically or publicly here in Thailand without the risk of heavy imprisonment,” Pravit Rojanaphruk, a Bangkok-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera. 

Prime Minister Prayuth said on Thursday the king’s successor would be named later, as the crown prince asked for time to mourn with the Thai people. “Let us wait for the right time,” he told reporters.

The military government has kept a tight grip on power since toppling the elected government in 2014.

Prayuth urged Thais to refrain from “festivities” for 30 days. Some Bangkok residents reported bars closing after the announcement, but it was not clear if all of the city’s famous night spots would shut early – and, if so, for how long.

The king and queen of Thailand on a state visit to Britain in their early years [Corbis via Getty Images]
The king and queen of Thailand on a state visit to Britain in their early years [Corbis via Getty Images]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies