LINES OF THOUGHT ACROSS SOUTHEAST ASIA

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Keys to the Kingdom: Thailand's new King tests military junta

The new king’s seven-week delay following the death of his father may have been the first move in a potential power struggle with the ruling junta A handout image provided by the Royal Household Bureau shows Thailand’s new King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (R) listening to the invitation to ascend…

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December 2, 2016

The new king’s seven-week delay following the death of his father may have been the first move in a potential power struggle with the ruling junta

Thai king ascendancy
A handout image provided by the Royal Household Bureau shows Thailand’s new King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (R) listening to the invitation to ascend the throne by National Legislative Assembly president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai (C), Regent pro tempore General Prem Tinsulanonda (back L), Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (back C) and Supreme Court president Veerapol Tungsuwan (back R) during the ascension to the throne proclamation ceremony at the Ambara Villa of the Dusit Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, 01 December 2016. Photo: EPA/ROYAL HOUSEHOLD BUREAU

Controversial Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn was formally named Thailand’s new King last night after accepting an invitation from the Kingdom’s National Legislative Assembly in accordance with the wishes of his late father King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The tenth ruler in Thailand’s centuries-old Chakri dynasty, the newly ascendant sovereign will henceforth be known as King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, or Rama X.
Freshly returned from Germany and surrounded by kneeling officials, the 64-year-old formalised his accession in an eerily silent television broadcast on Thursday night.
“I, hereby, accept the invitation to fulfil the royal wish for the benefits and the happiness of the Thai people,” he read in a statement.
The new sovereign ascended the throne after an unprecedented seven-week delay following the long-expected death of his father in October after 70 years in the palace. In defiance of the ruling military junta’s apparent plans for a seamless transition from father to son, the then-crown prince refused to immediately assume the monarchy out of what Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha publicly declared to be grief for his father’s passing. Yesterday marked the 50th day since the death of the late King.
Paul Chambers, director of research at Chiang Mai’s Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs, said the interval served as a chance for the heir-apparent to solidify his strength before his ascension.
“The delay in his ascension to the throne served the purpose of shoring up public support for the new sovereign, giving some time for Thais to recover from the sudden departure of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and thus making the son appear magnanimous in the people’s eyes,” he said. “Second, the delay has been used to put together a new coalition of aristocrats and military senior brass around the new sovereign.”
The wait can also be taken as a sign that King Rama X is attempting to define his role in the nation’s chaotic political landscape on his own terms, Chambers said.
“I do think that his decision to delay was a form of demonstrating independence from the military junta,” he said. “However, it was not only independence from the junta, but independence from every political institution. The new sovereign wants to show that he is not dependent on anyone except the memory of his father.”
The prospect of the scandal-ridden Vajiralongkorn occupying the palace has been a source of concern among Thailand’s elite since he was first named his father’s successor in 1972. In a damning US diplomatic cable released in 2010, former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun revealed to the US ambassador that there were fears the crown prince’s public philandering, dubious financial transactions and involvement with high-profile opposition politicians would continue to undermine the authority of the palace.
“After a pause, Anand added that the consensus view among many Thai was that the crown prince could not stop either, nor would he be able, at age 57, to rectify his behaviour,” the cable read.
Chambers said the newly ascendant sovereign would likely continue his father’s legacy of calculated involvement in Thailand’s fractured political landscape: “It is likely that we will see the crown prince pushing back against the wishes of the National Assembly on many occasions, in order to demonstrate the palace’s independence.”
German media outlet Manager Magazin reported last month that the newly ascendant King could have to pay more than $3.5 billion to the state of Bavaria under Germany’s inheritance tax laws.



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