Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the tenth monarch in the centuries-old Chakri dynasty, was formally crowned on Saturday (May 4) on the first of three days of elaborate and sacred coronation rites and rituals. He is now officially known as Rama X.
Vajiralongkorn inherited the throne from his father much-revered Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for over six decades until his death in October 2016. Today’s coronation marked the first such royal ceremony in the kingdom since 1950.
The ancient coronation rituals began at 10:09 am Thailand time, an auspicious and symbolic time bridging the start of his tenth reign and his deceased father’s ninth.
At that point in time, Vajiralongkorn commenced purification and anointment ceremonies using sacred water collected from various rivers around the kingdom.
He then received the five Royal Regalia, including the Great Crown of Victory, the Royal Sword of Victory, the Royal Sceptre, golden royal slippers, and a royal fan and fly whisk.
While Vajiralongkorn has reigned since 2016 after his father’s passing, he was not considered a divine monarch, or devaraja, nor was he officially the kingdom’s main patron of Buddhism, until he was consecrated by today’s sacred events.
Vajiralongkorn will take part in a grand royal procession around the capital Bangkok on Sunday, in which tens of thousands of Thais are expected to attend. He will make a symbolic public appearance at the Grand Palace on Monday to wrap up the coronation events.
The ceremonies complete a two-and-a-half year royal succession that many felt could have been attended by instability. Thailand’s military seized power in May 2014 in a move many felt was motivated in part to ensure royalist generals, rather than squabbling politicians, were in charge to steer the delicate transition.
While legally above politics, Vajiralongkorn has already made his royal mark on the country’s entrenched political conflict, recently accentuated by an inconclusive March 24 election result after five years of military rule, in pronouncements that have signaled a more assertive and interventionist crown.
That included his royal rejection on February 8 of his sister Princess Ubolratana’s announced intention to run as a prime ministerial candidate for a new party linked with criminally convicted, self-exiled ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, the military’s and conservative elite’s bête noire.
The party, Thai Raksa Chart, was subsequently disbanded for acting against the monarchy by the Election Commission. It remains unclear if Vajiralongkorn was aware of his elder sister’s intention to join politics before his unusual royal rebuke of a move that had sparked widespread criticism over social media.
The day before the March 24 polls, Vajiralongkorn released a royal statement asking Thais to only select “good people” at the ballot box, a broad and open message echoing a previous Bhumibol speech that analysts and diplomats nonetheless perceived as a rebuke of Thaksin’s coup-ousted Peua Thai party.
Peua Thai nonetheless won the most constituency seats at the polls, while the military-backed Palang Pracharat Party fronted by coup-maker and staunch royalist Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha won the most votes. Both opposed parties now claim to have a popular mandate to form a coalition government after official vote results are announced on May 9.
Speculation is now rife among the capital’s chattering classes that the royal palace may recommend the formation of a “national unity” government to break the deadlock, potentially headed by Vajiralongkorn’s trusted aide and economics technocrat Amporn Kittiamporn. Any move in that direction would pull the monarchy more deeply into the nation’s deeply polarized politics.
At age 66, Vajiralongkorn is the oldest king to be crowned in the Chakri dynasty. Educated in the United Kingdom and Australia, he later became an officer in Thailand’s armed forces and is a trained pilot known to be fond of flying while resident in Europe.
The Thai king spends much of his time in Germany, where he maintains luxury villas and is raising his youngest son and presumed heir apparent, 14-year-old Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti.
Days before the coronation, Vajiralongkorn married his long-time royal consort who is now formally known as Queen Suthida. A former Thai Airways flight attendant and current military general commanding an elite royal unit, little is known about her personal background before she joined the Thai military in mid-2010.
She has been pictured participating in sacred events with the king leading up to today’s coronation. Suthida is Vajiralongkorn’s fourth wife after three previous divorces.
Thailand’s monarchy is thickly shielded from public scrutiny by one of the strictest lese majeste laws in the world, which allows for 15-year prison penalties for any perceived slight or criticism of the king, queen, heir or regent. Royal family members are barred from filing charges while any Thai may make a complaint.
The law has previously been abused for political purposes by various actors including the military, but under Vajiralongkorn’s apparent royal guidance no new cases were filed under the law in 2018 while various pending charges were dropped or reclassified under other criminal provisions including sedition.
One prominent royal advisor to the king recommended a mass release of lese majeste-convicted prisoners as a show of royal mercy as part of the coronation ceremonies. With or without that royal pardon, observers now wonder how Vajiralongkorn will look to define and differentiate a reign that will necessarily be considerably shorter than his widely revered father’s.