Saturday, November 1, 2014

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Asian monarchies – the youngest, oldest and longest serving

The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, crowned its fifth King on Thursday. Oxford educated, 28 year old Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck became the worlds youngest King. Jigme was coronated by his father, as Druk Gyalpo, or Dragon King at precisely 8:31 am local time, a time deemed auspicious by court astrologers.

Asia’s vast lands, boast varied governing systems ranging from absolute monarchies to democracies and dictatorships. However, the fairytale world of modern day monarchs who today wield little power in their lands will always carry an air of mysticism. Although they still command the respect and loyalty of their people they live in a world quite different from their subjects surrounded by large manicured palaces, golden chariots and the best silks money can buy.

However its not a bygone era, the Asian region still plays host to numerous monarchs – while Jigme was crowned the youngest King, neighboring Thailand celebrated their king as the longest reigning monarch in 2006. Another Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, only recently renounced its 239-year-old Shah dynasty replacing it with a republic. Additionally in 1975, Laotian King Savang Vatthana, abdicated his throne to communist Pathet Lao, backed by the Soviet Union and the North Vietnamese Army. Japan, Brunei, Malaysia and Cambodia still maintain monarchies.

Thailand: Bhumibol Adulyadej, 71, is the reigning king of Thailand and world’s longest serving monarch. A constitutional monarch, he has often made decisive interventions in Thai politics, including the 2005-2006 Thai political crisis. He was credited with facilitating Thailand’s transition to democracy in the 1990s. Reported to be one of the richest men in the world, with a personal net worth of US$35 billion dollars, the King has used part of his great wealth to fund over 3,000 development projects, particularly in rural areas. He continues to be immensely popular in Thailand, and is revered as a semi-divine figure by the Thais.

Brunei: Hassanal Bolkiah, coronated on August 1, 1968, is the 29th Sultan of Brunei. As the monarch, he exercises absolute executive authority over Brunei and is the Prime Minister as well as holds defense and finance portfolio’s. Buoyed by the state’s sizable oil revenues and total control over the national economy’s finances he was once the world’s richest man boasting a fortune of US$55.63 billion in 1997. He has five sons and seven daughters with his three wives. The eldest son of the Sultan and Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha, his first wife Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah is the crown prince and the Sultan’s heir.

Japan: Emperor Akihito the current monarch of Japan is the 125th Emperor and follows in what is the world’s longest reigning monarchy. He ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1989, he is the world’s only Emperor. Highly respected by the Japanese, the Emperor and Empress Michiko Shōda have three children and have constantly endeavored to being the Japanese royal family closer to the people. As Emperor, he has also traveled to several countries, building bridges between Japan and the world.

Cambodia: Norodom Sihamoni became the King of Cambodia after his father Norodom Sihanouk abdicated in the year 2004. Best known for his work as a cultural ambassador in Europe and classical ballet instructor, Sihamoni has 12 half-brothers and half-sisters by his father’s various relationships; his only full sibling, a younger brother, HRH Samdech Norodom Narindrapong (born 1954) died in 2003. A lifelong bachelor, he has no successor, but this is not a problem, as the king in Cambodia is selected by the throne council even when such a successor exists.

Malaysia: Mizan Zainal Abidin the 16th Sultan of Malaysia or 13th King is the constitutional head of state of Malaysia. Coronated as the youngest Malay ruler at the age of 36, he married Sultanah Nur Zahirah and together they have two sons and two daughters.

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