Thailand’s new king shows his strength
BANGKOK: From requiring constitutional changes to pushing for unity in the divided country and reshaping the royal household, Thailand’s new king is putting an assertive stamp on his rule.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn has made it clear to the generals running the country that he will not just sit in the background as a constitutional figurehead since taking the throne in December from a father treated by Thais as semi-divine.
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 – at least for now.
“His majesty has proven himself to be very adept at managing the junta and the military,” said academic Paul Chambers at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai.
None of more than two dozen 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.
Asked for a response for this story, a palace official said it did not comment to the media. A government spokesman declined comment.
RELATIONSHIP OF OBEDIENCE
King Vajiralongkorn started from a very different place to his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on Oct. 13.
When the teenage Bhumibol took the throne in the late 1940s, the future of the monarchy itself looked in doubt.
Building alliances, he quietly re-established the royal aura and authority – becoming ultimate arbiter during coups and spells of chaos as Thailand changed from rural backwater to middle-income country.
King Vajiralongkorn, 64, has spent years abroad, his private life complicated by three 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 1970s; 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,” said Eugenie Mérieau, a lecturer and researcher at Sciences Po in Paris.