BANGKOK — Thailand has a new king, with the country’s crown prince formally taking the throne to succeed his much-revered late father, who reigned for 70 years.
The new monarch, who received the title “His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun,” assumed his new position Thursday, according to an announcement broadcast on all TV channels. He will also be known as Rama X, the tenth king in the Chakri dynasty that was founded in 1782.
A videotaped broadcast showed senior officials presenting the formal invitation to the prince to become king, and then his acceptance. It then showed the officials prostrate themselves at the feet of the new king, who was wearing a formal white uniform with decorations.
Vajiralongkorn’s father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, died on Oct. 13 at age 88 after many years of ill health. In 1972, Bhumibol designated Vajiralongkorn — his second child and only son — as his successor.
“I would like to accept in order to fulfill his majesty’s wishes and for the benefit of all Thais,” Vajiralongkorn said in the videotape.
Vajiralongkorn, 64, was originally expected to assume the throne the day his father died, but in a surprise announcement, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the prince asked for the succession to be put off so he would have time to mourn.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy — although currently under military rule — but Bhumibol played an important role in stabilizing his country through a time of enormous change which saw neighboring monarchies collapse under the pressures of the Vietnam War. He was especially known for his energy in development activities, doing hands-on inspections in remote rural areas. He calmed the country through several political crises.
Vajiralongkorn faces the challenges of a country that has become fractured over the past decade, as contending political forces engaged in bitter battles that sometimes turned violent, leaving a residue of bad feeling and shaking faith in the democratic system.
The new king, with a less intense interest in state affairs and a reputation as a playboy, does not command the same level of respect as Bhumibol. He has gone through divorces with three women who have borne him seven children, and in recent years has spent much of his time residing in Germany. Although most Thais are devoted to the royal institution, it is hard to gauge how they feel privately about Vajiralongkorn because of harsh laws that mandate a prison term of three to 15 years for anyone found guilty of insulting the monarchy.
Information about the succession has been tightly controlled, and international news broadcasts about Thailand have been blocked in recent days.
The prince made his first public appearance in more than a week earlier Thursday, attending a religious ceremony honoring his late father. He was accompanied by his three sisters, two adult daughters and 11-year-old son.
Shortly afterward, he granted an audience to National Legislative Assembly President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, Prime Minister Prayuth, Supreme Court Chief Justice Veerapol Tungsuwan and former Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, who had been one of his father’s closest advisers and served as regent in the period since Bhumibol’s death.
The Cabinet, proceeding according to a 1924 law on succession, on Tuesday had forwarded to the National Legislative Assembly the late king’s appointment of his son to succeed him. The assembly in turn acknowledged the appointment, and its president then issued an invitation to Vajiralongkorn to become king.
Huge crowds have been paying respects to the late king’s remains at the ceremonial Grand Palace. His remains will be cremated in an elaborate ceremony that may take place a year or more after his death. The official coronation of Vajiralongkorn will occur only after the cremation. Bhumibol’s coronation was in 1950, four years after succeeding his brother King Ananda Mahidol, who died of gunshot wounds in unclear circumstances.
Associated Press journalists Tassanee Vejpongsa and Kaweewit Kaewjinda contributed to this report.
Thai Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, has become the country’s new king, succeeding his much-revered late father King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
He accepted the throne in a televised broadcast following an invitation from parliament, formalising his accession.
King Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, died on 13 October.
The late king was widely seen as a pillar of stability during seven decades of political turmoil in Thailand.
The crown prince had been expected to become the next king the day after his father’s death, but Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha at the time said that he had asked to delay the official proclamation so he could mourn.
Instead, the crown prince was anointed in a special ceremony 50 days after the death of the late Thai king.
He becomes King Vajiralongkorn, the 10th monarch of the Chakri dynasty, but will also be known as Rama X.
Maha Vajiralongkorn was given the title of crown prince, making him the official heir, in 1972.
He is yet to enjoy the same level of popularity as his father, and spends much of his time abroad.
His accession to the throne ends a period of uncertainty during which Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, a 96-year-old former prime minister, has been serving as regent.
Thailand’s monarchy is protected from criticism by tough lese-majeste laws, which restrict media discussion about the royal family’s role, including in the international press.
Most ordinary Thais know only a few details about who the crown prince is and how he lives his life.
In recent years he has tried to improve his profile – important because the king is traditionally seen as a guiding force in Thai politics, which is highly polarised.
A formal coronation will not happen until after King Bhumibol’s cremation, expected next year.
Bhumibol’s own coronation took place four years after his brother King Ananda Mahidol died of gunshot wounds in mysterious circumstances.
Profile: Thailand’s new King Vajiralongkorn
King Vajiralongkorn was formally given the title of Crown Prince in 1972, making him the official heir. EPA
Thailand’s newly-proclaimed King Vajiralongkorn – his name means “adorned with jewels or thunderbolts” – was born on 28 July 1952, the first son and second child of Queen Sirikit and King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who had succeeded to the throne unexpectedly six years previously.
After decades of uncertainty over royal succession, the birth of a male heir was seen as vital for the monarchy, at a time when its primacy in Thailand’s political hierarchy was uncertain. The absolute monarchy had been overthrown in 1932, followed by an abdication in 1935, and 11 years in which the country had no sitting king.
In King Vajiralongkorn’s early years he was educated at a palace school in Bangkok. At the age of 13 he was sent to two private schools in the UK for five years, and then for a final year at a school in Sydney, Australia. He spent the following four years being trained at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in Canberra.
By his own account, he struggled to keep up at school, blaming his pampered upbringing in the palace. He also found it hard to make the grade at Duntroon.
He continued to receive advanced military training in Thailand, the UK, US and Australia, and became an officer in the Thai armed forces. He is a qualified civilian and fighter pilot, flying his own Boeing 737 when he travels overseas.
He was formally given the title of Crown Prince by his father in an investiture ceremony in 1972, making him the official heir. But by that time questions were being raised about his fitness to succeed to the throne.
He showed none of the enthusiasm of his younger sister Princess Sirindhorn for his father’s development projects and there were persistent rumours of womanising, gambling and illegal businesses.
In 1981 his mother, Queen Sirikit, alluded to these problems, describing her son as “a bit of a Don Juan” and suggesting that he preferred spending his weekends with beautiful women rather than performing duties.
In a rare audience with Thai journalists in 1992, he denied the rumours that he was involved with mafia-like figures and underworld businesses.
Vajiralongkorn delayed succession in order to join people in mourning. Reuters
In 1977 he married his cousin Princess Soamsawali and they had their first child, Princess Bajarakitiyabha, in December 1978. However, by then he was involved with a young actress, Yuvadhida, with whom he had five children from 1979 to 1987. He married her in 1994, but in 1996 very publicly denounced her and disowned his four sons, who were studying in the UK.
He married his third wife Srirasmi, a lady-in-waiting, in 2001, and had another son, Prince Dipangkorn, with her in 2005.
In 2014 Srirasmi was stripped of her royal title and nine of her relatives, including her parents, were arrested for lese majeste on charges they had abused their connections with the Crown Prince. A police officer linked to the family died in custody after falling from a window.
That charge, of abusing his name, has also been made against others who became close to the Crown Prince, notably a well known fortune teller who, together with another police officer, died after being arrested late last year. At the same time, the Crown Prince’s personal bodyguard was stripped of his rank for “disobeying royal commands” and “threatening the monarchy by pursuing his own interests”. He disappeared and is believed to have died.
King Vajiralongkorn is these days seen in the company of a former Thai Airways flight attendant, Suthida, who has been made an officer of the Royal Household Guard, with the rank of Lieutenant-General. He also famously promoted his pet poodle Fu-Fu to the rank of Air Chief Marshall.
He led two cycling events last year in honour of his parents. EPA
The severity of the lese majeste law has prevented any open discussion of the new king’s suitability inside Thailand. But privately, the possibility of Vajiralongkorn being passed over for his more popular and dutiful sister Sirindhorn was often talked about, encouraged by her own royal title being elevated in 1978 and by a change in palace succession law to allow a female to succeed to the throne.
But that is only possible where there is no male heir, and King Bhumibol never supported the option of an alternative to his son.
As King Bhumibol’s health declined, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn began to be seen more often in public, performing traditional royal rituals on behalf of his father.
In the past there were rumours of a business relationship between him and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecoms tycoon whose party has won every election since 2001 and who was seen as a threat by much of the conservative royalist elite.
But after the coup in 2014, which deposed the government of Thaksin’s sister Yingluck, the new military rulers appeared to work with the Crown Prince to ensure his succession, helping organise events like mass bicycle rides in which he and his daughters participated, presenting a less formal image of the future king to the public.
Much of Thailand grieved when King Bhumibol died. EPA
Just what kind of king Vajiralongkorn will make is hard to guess.
Although a constitutional monarch, he will wield considerable power – for example, it is almost impossible for anyone in Thailand to reject the express wishes of the monarch.
He also has a decisive say over the Crown Property Bureau, by far the wealthiest institution in Thailand, with assets valued at between $30-40bn (£24-32bn), giving the palace largely untaxed annual income of around $300m. And he commands his own personal regiment of the Royal Guard, comprising an estimated 5,000 troops.
One advantage he will not have is the immense prestige and respect built by his father over 70 years on the throne, which Thai royal experts point out must be earned, not inherited. Vajiralongkorn, at the age of 64, will not have so long to make his mark on the monarchy. But he has had decades to observe and learn from the complex flow of power that surrounds the monarch.
He will preside over the elaborate and prolonged funeral rituals for the late king, giving him a chance to enhance his own standing in the process.
He may well be able to rely on the lasting reverence for his father to shore up the monarchy’s central role in Thai society.
Tags: Bhumibol Adulyadej, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, King, lèse-majesté laws, Prayuth, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Rama X, Thailand, Thailand has a new king, the tenth king in the Chakri dynasty, Vajiralongkorn's father