New chap­ter of Thai­land monar­chy

Va­ji­ra­longkorn be­comes king

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Crown Prince Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn be­came the king of Thai­land late Thurs­day, open­ing a new chap­ter for the pow­er­ful monar­chy in a coun­try still mourning the death of his fa­ther. The 64-year-old in­her­its one of the world’s rich­est monar­chies as well as a po­lit­i­cally febrile na­tion, 50 days af­ter King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej’s death. Af­ter weeks of com­plex palace pro­to­cols the prince was in­vited by the head of the Na­tional Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly (NLA) to as­cend the throne in an event broad­cast on all Thai tele­vi­sion chan­nels.

“I agree to ac­cept the wishes of the late king... for the ben­e­fit of the en­tire Thai peo­ple,” said Va­ji­ra­longkorn, wear­ing an of­fi­cial white tu­nic dec­o­rated with medals and a pink sash. The somber, rit­ual-heavy cer­e­mony at his Bangkok palace was at­tended by the chief of the NLA, junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha, and the pow­er­ful 96-year-old head of the privy coun­cil, Prem Tin­su­lanonda.

Red-jack­eted courtiers looked on as a palace staff mem­ber, shuf­fling on his knees, pre­sented the new king with a mi­cro­phone through which he de­liv­ered his few words of ac­cep­tance. King Va­ji­ra­longkorn then pros­trated him­self, hands pressed to­gether in re­spect, to a small shrine topped by a pic­ture of his fa­ther and mother-Queen Sirikit Ki­tiyakara.

He be­comes Rama X of Thai­land’s Chakri dy­nasty, but will not for­mally be crowned un­til af­ter his fa­ther’s cre­ma­tion, which is ex­pected next year. Bhu­mi­bol’s reign, which ended on Oc­to­ber 13, spanned a tu­mul­tuous pe­riod of Thai history pock­marked by a com­mu­nist in­sur­gency, coups and street protests. It also saw break­neck de­vel­op­ment which has re­sulted in a huge wealth dis­par­ity be­tween a Bangkok-cen­tric elite and the ru­ral poor.

To many Thais, Bhu­mi­bol was the only con­sis­tent force in a po­lit­i­cally com­bustible coun­try, his im­age bur­nished by rit­ual and shielded by a harsh royal defama­tion law. The United States of­fered its con­grat­u­la­tions to the new king, say­ing it looked for­ward to strength­en­ing ties with Thai­land.

“We of­fer our best wishes to his majesty and all of the Thai peo­ple,” the State Depart­ment said. “His fa­ther, King Bhu­mi­bol, ruled the King­dom of Thai­land with vi­sion and com­pas­sion for 70 years and was a great friend of the United States. “The United States and Thai­land en­joy a long­stand­ing, strong, and mul­ti­fac­eted bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship, and we look for­ward to deep­en­ing that re­la­tion­ship and strength­en­ing the bonds be­tween our two coun­tries and peo­ples go­ing for­ward.”

Into the lime­light

Monks chanted bless­ings at Bud­dhist temples to mark the new monarch’s as­cen­sion-an era-defin­ing mo­ment for most Thais who for seven decades knew only Bhu­mi­bol as their king. Va­ji­ra­longkorn does not yet en­joy the same level of pop­u­lar­ity. He spends much of his time out­side of the pub­lic eye, par­tic­u­larly in south­ern Ger­many where he owns prop­erty. He has had three high-pro­file di­vorces, while a re­cent po­lice cor­rup­tion scan­dal linked to the fam­ily of his pre­vi­ous wife al­lowed the pub­lic a rare glimpse of palace af­fairs. Thurs­day’s as­cen­sion ends a pe­riod of un­cer­tainty since Bhu­mi­bol’s death prompted by the prince’s re­quest to delay his of­fi­cial procla­ma­tion so he could mourn with the Thai peo­ple. Thai­land’s con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy has lim­ited for­mal pow­ers but it draws the loy­alty of much of the king­dom’s busi­ness elite as well as a mil­i­tary that dom­i­nates pol­i­tics through its reg­u­lar coups.

An­a­lysts say Va­ji­ra­longkorn, untested un­til now, will have to man­age com­pet­ing mil­i­tary cliques. In a brief tele­vised ad­dress af­ter the cer­e­mony, Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who as army chief led the 2014 coup, praised the new king “as the head of the Thai state and heart of the Thai peo­ple.” The Thai monar­chy is pro­tected from crit­i­cism by one of the world’s strictest lese ma­jeste laws, car­ry­ing up to 15 years in jail for ev­ery charge of de­fam­ing the king, queen, heir or re­gent.

That law makes open dis­cus­sion about the royal fam­ily’s role all but im­pos­si­ble in­side the king­dom and means all me­dia based in­side the coun­try rou­tinely self-cen­sor. Con­vic­tions for so-called “112” of­fences-named af­ter its crim­i­nal code have sky­rock­eted since gen­er­als seized power in 2014. Ex­perts say most have tar­geted the junta’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, many of whom sup­port the top­pled civil­ian gov­ern­ment of Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra. —AFP

BANGKOK: Peo­ple hold news­pa­per images of Thai­land’s new King Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn out­side the Grand Palace.— AFP

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