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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

DECEMBER 3, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 48

King of Hearts
An insider explains the monarch's popular appeal
By JULIAN GEARING

    ALSO IN ASIAWEEK
Thailand
King Bhumibol Adulyadej celebrates a special birthday

Interview
An insider's explains the monarch's popular appeal

Book
A flawed attempt to cash in on the King's reputation

Back to Basics
The King warns against an unheeding rush to wealth

A Protective Law
It's called lèse-majesté -- and it is taken seriously

  RELATED STORIES
ASIAWEEEK
The Asiaweek Power 50 1999
A Very Special Power

TIME
TIME 100: Chulalongkorn
Thailand's beloved monarch reformed his ancient land and opened it to the West, without surrendering its sovereignty.

CNN
Thai king parades in gilded boats
(11/04/99)

Thailand to offer free plastic surgery to mark king's birthday
(09/28/99)

Biggest film in Thai history challenges 'Anna and the King'
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Very few Thais get the chance to see behind the wall of protocol that surrounds King Bhumibol Adulyadej. One who has is former premier Anand Panyarachun. The one-time diplomat was brought in twice as an unelected prime minister - in 1991 and 1992 - to help the country out in a difficult time. Anand, 67, talked to Asiaweek's Julian Gearing about the Thai monarchy. Excerpts:

Around the world, monarchies are on the wane. But Thai royalty is still loved and respected. Why the difference?
Our kings, and especially the present King, have been able to move with the times, to blend tradition with modern ideas. [King Bhumibol] stands in the middle. There are some monarchies in Europe that go to one extreme - they become commoners, they ride bicycles on the streets, they shop in the supermarket. And there are other monarchies that still retain tradition and pomp and circumstance. But the institution itself, the monarchy, has to retain a certain degree of mystique, because the moment you subject the monarchy to daily public scrutiny, it could become counterproductive.

How important is the monarchy to Thailand today?
I think King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been not only a symbol of unity and social harmony but has actually been instrumental in the maintenance and development of unity and social harmony and stability. Of course his predecessors, kings Rama IV, V and VI, did their share. But their reigns were not as long as the present monarch's, and were not during a transition period. The current King came to the throne soon after the so-called revolution - the transformation of absolute power to constitutional democracy. He was in the picture at the most critical and sensitive times during this transition period. He had to walk a tightrope. And he has always delivered.

Does the new constitution, brought into effect in October 1997, diminish the need for the King's steadying hand?
Being a constitutional monarch, he does not and he cannot be seen to be intervening in political af-fairs. With my short, limited experience in government, I have never seen him overstepping that boundary. As a constitutional monarch, he has three rights: the right to be consulted, the right to warn and the right to encourage. He exercises those rights but always within bounds and within the context of the constitutional monarchy. Kings are not in a position to say things too specific. He always has to be seen to be neutral in politics.

What is the future of the Thai monarchy?
I cannot predict the future. But I am willing to guess that the monarchy and Thailand will go hand in hand for a very long time. The respect that the Thais have for the institution is firmly entrenched in their minds. Now that doesn't mean that 50 years from now or whatever, as happened in many other countries, the demands for democratization of the monarchy will not emerge. It is difficult to tell. It is up to the monarchy to sense the mood of the country. The present King has been able to. Our future kings will have to be able to keep the pulse of the country, assess the mood, and then react to changes.

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