Thai parliament acknowledges Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn as new King, to invite him to take the throne

Thailand's Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn watches the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony in central Bangkok, Thailand, on May 13, 2015.
Thailand's Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn watches the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony in central Bangkok, Thailand, on May 13, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - Thailand’s national assembly will invite Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to take the throne, it announced on Tuesday (Nov 29), ending weeks of uncertainty that has lingered since his father died on Oct 13.

Following constitutional procedures, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) acknowledged him as Thailand’s new king in a special parliamentary session convened on Tuesday morning. Once he accedes, he will be the 10th king of the Thailand’s two-century-old Chakri dynasty.

“I will invite Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to ascend the throne and become the new King for all Thai people… All members (of the National Legislative Assembly), on this auspicious occasion, I ask you to stand and offer your praise to the new king,” NLA President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai said. 

After King Bhumibol Adulyadej died of illness at the age of 88, the heir apparent unexpectedly asked for time to mourn with the people, leaving vacant a position that needed to be filled by a regent. Such royal duties are now being undertaken by 96-year-old Prem Tinsulanonda, former president of King Bhumibol's privy council.

The crown prince is expected to be formally crowned after his father’s royal cremation, which will take place next year.

King Bhumibol reigned for 70 years in Asean's second-largest economy and was worshipped as a demigod by the Buddhist majority population. He wielded influence atypical of constitutional monarchs, which helped stabilise a deeply polarised country amid decades of political turbulence and frequent military coups.

Thailand's current government is stacked with generals who staged the last coup in 2014. It is now steering into place a new Constitution that extends military influence over the future government, which is expected to be elected in polls held by the end of 2017. The government has indicated that this document would be endorsed by the new king.

Schooled as a teenager in Britain and then at the Royal Military College at Duntroon, Australia, the crown prince is a qualified helicopter and fighter jet pilot.

As heir apparent, the thrice-divorced prince rarely made public speeches. It was Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha who announced the prince's wish to delay his accession.

Unlike King Bhumibol, who was unexpectedly thrust into power at the age of 18 with the mysterious death of his brother in 1946, he was anointed as the crown prince in 1972.

Asked about the pressures on him as heir apparent in his younger days, he told the BBC: "It's difficult to say what is it like to be a fish when you are a fish."

Last year, the crown prince presided over two closely choreographed mass cycling events in honour of his parents, which observers noted were designed to set the stage for his future kingship.

 

He is expected to take the helm of one of the world's richest monarchies. The Crown Property Bureau, which owns vast tracks of land in the capital and stakes in Thai corporate giants like Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement Group, was estimated by economist Porphant Ouyyanont to be worth US$43.8 billion (S$62.3 billion) in 2014. It is a much sought-after investor.

Like his father, the crown prince is shielded by lese majeste laws that allow for someone who insults or defames a royal to be jailed for up to 15 years on each count. Despite criticism that the law is often abused for political ends, the state has directed considerable resources towards tracking such transgressions online and offline.

For now, masses of black-clad mourners continue streaming into Bangkok's Grand Palace, where King Bhumibol's body lies in state. The government has declared an official mourning period of one year, after which an elaborate cremation ceremony will be held on a pyre to be built on a royal field nearby.

tanhy@sph.com.sg