Thousands witness Thai King's procession

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn completes Buddhist and Brahmin rituals to symbolically transform him into a living god. He says he will 'reign with righteousness.'
Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, wearing a golden robe and a ceremonial feathered hat, being carried on a palanquin during the procession in Bangkok yesterday.
Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, wearing a golden robe and a ceremonial feathered hat, being carried on a palanquin during the procession in Bangkok yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

People kneel on the ground as the slow convoy traverses a 7km regal route

They came - some alone, others with their family - dressed in the brightest hue of yellow possible that matched the fluttering flags and freshly painted kerbs.

Thousands of Thais from across the country descended on inner Bangkok yesterday to catch sight of newly anointed King Maha Vajiralongkorn in a symbolic procession around the capital.

Rice farmer Tin Chamnansue, 62, travelled overnight with her sister from northern Sukhothai province to camp out on a lawn outside Bangkok's Grand Palace.

They did so without informing their adult children as they were sure their children would worry about their health in the sweltering heat that threatened to wilt the yellow floral displays specially erected in the area.

"I'm proud we have a new King," Madam Tin told The Straits Times. "On normal occasions, we would not be able to get this close."

Less than two years ago, these same roads were filled with grieving Thais for the cremation of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was revered as the father of the nation.

Yesterday afternoon, his son and newly consecrated monarch Maha Vajiralongkorn, 66, emerged from the Grand Palace on a palanquin for a more joyous procession, having promised last Saturday to reign with righteousness, just like his father had vowed.

As a marching band played tunes composed by the late monarch, King Vajiralongkorn sat stiffly aloft on his moving throne in a golden robe and a ceremonial feathered hat.

Thais knelt on the ground while holding up their cellphones to capture the moment.

Hundreds of soldiers and officials - including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha - formed part of the slow-moving convoy that traversed a 7km route through the regal boulevard of Ratchadamnoen Avenue, then stopped by three ancient temples - Bowon Niwet, Ratchabophit and Phra Chetuphon - that are closely associated with the royals.

Thailand's monarchy is shielded by a strict lese majeste law and supported by a culture that sees kings as demigods.

Mr Ming Jinapaeng, a street food seller from Bangkok who came with his wife and daughter to pay homage to the new monarch, said: "We are just commoners, we are just dust. Whatever happens, we respect the monarchy."

King Vajiralongkorn was officially crowned last Saturday in an ornate ceremony steeped in Buddhist and Brahmin rituals. He has been king for over two years, having ascended shortly after his father's death in 2016.

Briefly after his anointment, he installed Queen Suthida, a former flight stewardess who later became deputy chief of his bodyguard unit.

Compared with his father, who was considered the patriarch of the country, King Vajiralongkorn has been relatively more aloof.

 
 
 
 

Yet, he has also been assertive, leaning on the military government to make legal changes that would allow him to reign directly from Germany - where he keeps a home - as well as tightening personal control over the Crown Property Bureau, which oversees multibillion-dollar assets.

His political inclinations remain a matter of debate in a constitutional monarchy where the palace wields enormous influence.

Coup-prone Thailand is now in political limbo, having held an election on March 24 but has not been able to form a new government until after the main coronation ceremonies end today, when official results are due to be released.

Until then, it will be controlled by a five-year-old military government led by former coup leader, Mr Prayut, who is trying to return as premier in the new government.

Earlier yesterday, King Vajiralongkorn bestowed new titles on members of the royal family, including two of his sisters, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and Princess Chulabhorn Walailak. His elder sister Ubolratana Rajakanya was not mentioned in the ceremony.

Princess Ubolratana, who renounced her royal titles in 1972, tried to take part in the March election as a prime minister nominee of a political party linked to fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The King intervened, saying that she remains a senior member of the royal family and should be above politics. Her nomination was swiftly voided and the party was dissolved.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2019, with the headline 'Thousands witness Thai King's procession'. Print Edition | Subscribe