Thais pledge loyalty to late king in mass ceremonies

Junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, who seized power in 2014, led 3,000 civil servants yesterday during a ceremony in Bangkok in front of a giant portrait of the king.
Junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, who seized power in 2014, led 3,000 civil servants yesterday during a ceremony in Bangkok in front of a giant portrait of the king.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BANGKOK • Civil servants, schoolchildren, soldiers and celebrities were among the tens of thousands of Thais who swore an "oath of loyalty" yesterday to the country's dead monarch.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej's death on Oct 13, after a seven-decade reign, has sparked mass displays of grief in a politically divided nation that is now bereft of its only unifying figure.

The ceremony yesterday, which was ordered by the country's arch-royalist junta leadership, was a vivid illustration of the Thais' devotion to their late monarch.

It also showed how the country's military rulers have further ramped up the kingdom's well-oiled royalist propaganda machine since King Bhumibol's death.

Junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, who seized power in 2014, led 3,000 civil servants during a ceremony in Bangkok in front of a giant portrait of the king.

"We will remain in allegiance to all the kings of the Chakri dynasty until we die," General Prayut said when taking the oath, which called on Thais to "respect the law" and emulate the king's teachings.

The scene was repeated all around the country, and all public servants, state employees and armed forces personnel were expected to take part.

Thai television channels broadcast footage of children getting down on their knees to form a giant figure nine - a reference to King Bhumibol's official title Rama IX.

The military has long portrayed itself as the ultimate defender of the monarchy, often using perceived threats to the institution as justification for many of the 12 successful coups it has carried out since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.

However, the relationship was reciprocal, as King Bhumibol himself signed off on their coups.

Many people saw the military's 2014 putsch as a move to ensure it was in charge when the question of succession arose.

King Bhumibol's named successor is Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has yet to attain his father's widespread popularity or unifying status.

The head of Parliament yesterday said Thai lawmakers have been asked not to leave the country next week, as a much-touted Dec 1 date for the prince's ascension to the throne draws near.

AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'Thais pledge loyalty to late king in mass ceremonies'. Print Edition | Subscribe