[Analytics] Thailand crowns its newly-wed king in elaborate ceremony

Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn in the midst of special Buddhist and Brahmin rites on May 4, 2019.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM THAIRATHTV/FACEBOOK

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the throne three years ago, was officially crowned on Saturday (May 4) morning at the start of elaborate rituals lasting three days. It was Thailand’s first coronation in 69 years. Tan Hui Yee specially for The Straits Times.

Dressed in a white, gold-trimmed one-shoulder robe, the monarch on Saturday morning sat in a pavilion in the Grand Palace while Thailand’s Supreme Patriarch, the most senior Buddhist monk in the country, poured water down his back and on his hands. Brahmin priests and royal family members then passed him vessels of blessed water to pour over himself.

Cannons went off in the distance during the symbolic purification ceremony.

Later, dressed in a full royal regalia before the royal family and senior officials, including Singapore’s ambassador to Thailand Chua Siew San as the dean of the diplomatic corps, the king uttered his first royal command: “I will inherit, continue and advance the rule by righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the people forever.”

The 66-year-old monarch, whose full name is Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, has been an assertive and unpredictable figure since taking the throne after the death of his revered father Bhumibol Adulyadej. He is the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty, and is also known as King Rama X.

On Thursday, he surprised many Thais by announcing his marriage to his partner and deputy commander of his bodyguard unit Suthida Tidjai, giving her the title of Queen. The marriage was King Vajiralongkorn’s fourth.

While Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, the royal family has extensive influence, wealth and power.

Over the past three years, King Vajiralongkorn has consolidated personal control over the royal guards and the Crown Property Bureau, which was estimated to hold over US$40 billion (S$55 billion) worth of assets in 2014. He now personally appoints members of the sangha supreme council, where the Buddhist country’s most senior monks sit.

Meanwhile, members of a new civilian volunteer corps wear signature yellow and blue uniforms and salute the king’s portrait before conducting any community activity, like cleaning roads and running public kitchens.

Thailand’s strict lese majeste law makes insulting or defaming the king, queen, regent or heir apparent punishable by up to 15 years’ jail.

As lese majeste complaints can be filed by anyone, critics argue that the ruling junta has wielded them liberally against political dissidents. But lese majeste prosecutions abruptly dropped in recent months, something veteran historian Sulak Sivaraksa attributes to the personal intervention of the king himself.

Dr Sulak, who had a personal audience with the king in 2017, described the monarch as “very well-read”.

“Based on my impression, he was concerned about the survival of the monarchy, the state of the Thai sangha, and how democracy would work in Thailand,” the scholar told The Straits Times.

Naresuan University political science lecturer Puangchon Unchanam, assessing the king’s first three years in power, told The Straits Times: “Against all odds, he has shown to the public that he has more political skill, will, and assertiveness to steer his reign than what many people thought he had, especially before he became king.”

He was also arguably more active than his father in protecting the political and economic interests of the crown, said Dr Puangchon.

“Before he ascended the throne, it was still somewhat debatable to what degree the monarch controlled, owned, and even cared about the Crown Property Bureau (CPB); and whether the CPB belonged to the crown as an institution or the monarch as a person. Thai conservatives tended to say that it belonged to, and aimed to benefit, the nation as a whole, or the monarchy as an essential part of the nation – not the monarch as a person. Now, under Rama X’s reign, it is clear that it belongs solely to His Majesty.”

No invitations for foreign dignitaries were sent for today’s coronation.

In the afternoon, representatives of the diplomatic corps will meet the king, said the foreign ministry.

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