New King of Thailand Puts Assertive “Stamp” on His Rule
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64 anni, made it clear to the Generals running the country that he will not sit in the background as a constitutional figurehead since taking the throne in December on his father’s death.
That matters in Thailand, where relationships between monarchy, army and politicians have long determined the stability of Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy and America’s oldest regional ally.
Predictions by some pundits of a troubled royal transition have proven wrong.
None of more than 25 serving or former officials, military officers, parliamentarians, diplomats or analysts that Reuters spoke to for this story saw any immediate threat to that balance of power.
With jail facing anyone found guilty of insulting the monarchy under the nation’s “lese majeste” laws, few Thais comment openly on royal matters.
A government spokesman declined comment.
King Vajiralongkorn started from a very different place to his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on 13 October last year.
King Vajiralongkorn has spent years abroad, his private life complicated by 3 marriages, and he has yet to win the public adoration received by his father.
But the King’s background puts him on different terms with the Generals: He went through military academies; he saw combat against insurgents in the 1970’s; he can fly a fighter jet.
In line with protocol, Junta members prostrate themselves before the new King at audiences, as palace photos show.
“The relationship is at least one of obedience,”
The Junta was quick to obey when the palace asked for constitutional changes, the 1st such request in decades.
Behind the palace walls, the royal household is being reshaped.
Over 20 appointments and promotions have been made by the new King and published in the Royal Gazette.
The head of the influential Privy Council, Prem Tinsulanonda, 96 anni, remains in place, but half the other members are new. The new appointments have increased representation of those with a background in the army’s Wongthewan faction or King’s Guard, where the King served.
Among other notable military promotions was Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya within the King’s Own Bodyguard. Often seen at the King’s side, though not publicly designated as his consort, she became a General on the day he took the throne.
Last week, the King appointed a new Buddhist supreme patriarch, ending more than a year of tussling over the position. Parliament restored the King’s authority to do so after 25 years of having a council of monks make the decision.
The new patriarch is from a fraternity closely tied to the monarchy rather than the one the religious council had first proposed.
The Big Q: What happens when there is a resumption of political competition, suspended after the last military coup in Y 2014?
The King has stressed unity within the divided country, both in his New Year address and at a late night meeting with the country’s leadership in January to push for more help for flood victims, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said.
The aim of the panel is to listen to different political factions, to establish some common ground between them and then come up with an agreement all would sign to ensure a peaceful transition to civilian-led democracy.
There is a sense of urgency with regard to reconciliation that some politicians say stems from the new King’s call for peace and unity. The military government is under some pressure to deliver on the King’s request, which may even speed up the transition back to civilian government.