Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn takes control of five palace agencies

Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun pays his respect to the monument of King Rama I after signing a new constitution in Bangkok, Thailand on April 6, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's new king was granted control on Tuesday (May 2) over five state agencies that oversee royal affairs and security, the latest move by an increasingly assertive monarch to consolidate power.

The law detailing the transfers was not made public until it was published late Monday (May 1) in the Royal Gazette, meaning lawmakers had voted on the Bill in private.

That secrecy is in line with the trademark opacity of Thailand's monarchy, a powerful institution shielded by harsh defamation laws that for decades have landed critics behind bars.

The five agencies transferred to King Maha Vajiralongkorn's control include two major administrative departments - the Royal Household Bureau and the Office of His Majesty's Principal Private Secretary - plus three palace security agencies.

All were previously under government or military control.

"(These) are agencies that handle work related to His Majesty the King and royal family members' business, and they need to follow traditional procedures," said the law which came into effect on Tuesday.

"The work is different than other departments so it is suitable to set up new agencies under His Majesty's custody."

King Vajiralongkorn, 64, ascended the throne after the October death of his revered father Bhumibol Adulyadej.

It was the country's first royal succession in 70 years, stirring anxiety among powerbrokers about how a new monarch might restructure relations between the palace and figures in military and government.

While the King's formal powers are limited under the constitutional monarchy, the throne became a position of vast influence and wealth under late King Bhumibol.

King Vajiralongkorn has yet to attain his father's level of popularity and his approach to the crown is still largely a mystery.

Yet the new king has taken a number of assertive moves in recent months to expand his influence.

Earlier this year he ordered changes to a junta-drafted constitution that had already been approved in a referendum.

The changes gave him control over the naming of a regent and kept open the possibility of a palace intervention in case of political deadlock.

King Vajiralongkorn was also granted power last year to appoint the kingdom's top monk, a position that had been left open for years amid a bitter power struggle between Buddhist factions.

Since ascending the throne the new monarch has sacked a number of powerful palace officials from his father's era. Some were publicly accused of "evil deeds" and paraded in front of the press with their heads shaved.

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