Thais take tentative steps into new King's reign

Pictures of the monarch put up as he marks ascension by leading ceremony for late father

Thailand's new king marked the beginning of his reign yesterday leading a religious ceremony for his late father at the Grand Palace. He was greeted by scores of civil servants and students who joined their palms in a sign of respect as his cream-coloured sedan passed by.

"The monarchy is a pillar of moral support for the Thai people," one of the well-wishers, Ms Kanitta Moosa, told The Straits Times. "I hope that it will stay like that in this new reign."

The crown prince formally ascended the throne on Thursday night, pledging to fulfil the wishes of his father Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on Oct 13. He will now be known as King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, the 10th monarch in the 234-year-old Chakri dynasty.

In video broadcast on Thai television late on Thursday, he made a brief speech assenting to take the throne - putting an end to the unusual interregnum.

The country, deep in mourning for the revered King Bhumibol, took tentative steps into this new chapter yesterday.

Some Thai companies' websites that used to feature pop-up monochrome eulogies to the late king on their homepages replaced them with pictures of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, against a yellow background. "Long live the King," they proclaimed. 

Then Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn being greeted by his younger sister, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, at a royal funeral ceremony for the late Thai King Bhumibol at the Grand Palace in Bangkok on Thursday.
Then Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn being greeted by his younger sister, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, at a royal funeral ceremony for the late Thai King Bhumibol at the Grand Palace in Bangkok on Thursday. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Over in Dinso Road in Bangkok's civic district, photography shops displayed pictures of the new King in golden frames, carefully covered in bubble wrap. Some vendors were also selling commemorative coins produced for the then crown prince's 60th birthday, as well as for his 1977 marriage to Princess Soamsawali, whom he has since divorced.

One shopkeeper, Ms Sumonmarn Chinprasert, 59, told The Straits Times that she sold 10 such coins on Thursday, compared with just one or two daily. "From the time I was born, my parents have told me to be grateful to our father (King Bhumibol)," she said. "Who can compare to our father? "But I hope (King Maha Vajiralongkorn) can do his best. Give him time, give him a chance."

A towering black banner at Bangkok's city hall thanking King Bhumibol for his kindness is a symbol of the country's deep and lingering sense of loss. The monarch, who was thrust into kingship at the age of 18 in 1946 by the mysterious death of his brother, went on to reign for 70 years as the country weathered political turbulence and communist threats to grow into an economic powerhouse. 

He grew the prestige of, and support for, the monarchy by improving rural livelihoods, and through selective political interventions. 

Shielded by a strict law against insulting royals, he also played a unifying and stabilising role in the politically polarised country. Even though he made fewer and fewer public appearances in the last years of his life, news of his ill health tended to roil the Thai stock market.

The country is now run by a military government installed after a 2014 coup. It will soon promulgate a new Constitution that extends military influence over a future elected government, after which a fresh election will be held. As Thailand's new head of state, King Maha Vajiralongkorn is now expected to endorse the Charter before it comes into being.

In the meantime, he has appointed General Prem Tinsulanonda to head his privy council, the same post he held during King Bhumibol's reign, it was announced last night.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'Thais take tentative steps into new King's reign'. Print Edition | Subscribe