Thailand prepares for coronation of King Vajiralongkorn

On May 4, Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn will be crowned king in an elaborate coronation ceremony. Vajiralongkorn became Thailand’s constitutional monarch in 2016. His official coronation follows a long mourning period for his much-revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October 2016 at the age of 88. Here's what you need to know.

King Rama

King Vajiralongkorn has been Thailand's constitutional monarch since 2016.

What is happening?

The coronation for King Vajiralongkorn will take place from May 4 to 6 in Thailand’s capital Bangkok. The king will officially be crowned on May 4. A procession and inauguration of the king’s official name and signature will take place the following day. The king will meet with the public and foreign dignitaries on May 6.

The coronation will include Buddhist and Hindu Brahmin rituals, some of which have already begun. These include gathering water to be used in purification and anointment ceremonies. The water was collected at auspicious times by senior officials from 108 sources across Thailand.

After the coronation, King Vajiralongkorn’s title will change from Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua (uncrowned king) to Pra Bat Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua (crowned king).

The government has encouraged Thai people to wear yellow during April and for the following months until the king’s birthday at the end of July. Yellow became a popular colour to signify respect for the monarchy under King Bhumibol, who was born on a Monday and yellow is linked to that day of the week. The 2006 celebrations of King Bhumibol’s 60th anniversary of his coronation were notable for the sea of yellow-wearing Thais who came out to celebrate. 

Who is King Vajiralongkorn?

As the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty, the 66-year-old King Vajiralongkorn holds the title Rama X.

He is the eldest son and second child of King Bhumibol, who passed away in 2016 after a 70-year reign. Vajiralongkorn has three siblings, including Princess Ubolratana whose nomination for prime minister by now-disbanded political party Thai Raksa Chart caused tumult in Thai politics and was ultimately halted by condemnation from Vajiralongkorn.

Since Vajiralongkorn became king, he has led significant changes in palace affairs and finances. In 2017, Thailand amended the Crown Property Act to give King Vajiralongkorn full control over the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), with assets to be held in his name. The value of the CPB is not publicly known, but was estimated to be worth more than US$30 billion (NZ$45 billion). CPB assets include prime Bangkok real estate and shares in top Thailand banks and conglomerates. Forbes has called Thailand’s king the world’s wealthiest royal, ahead of Brunei and Saudi Arabia.

What is the role of the monarchy in Thailand?

For most Thais, this will be the first coronation in their lifetime. Thai people revere the monarchy and see it as a critical part of Thailand’s national identity. The specific role and influence of the monarchy in Thailand is debated, although free exchange on the issue is curbed by legal and social restrictions.

Officially, the monarchy is considered above politics. The king is still influential, however. The role of the monarchy in Thailand has also been central to the country’s political tensions over the last decade.

Government concern over the coronation has had an impact on Thailand’s politics. Official results of Thailand’s recent national elections won’t be released until May 9, a few days after the coronation. The pro-military political party Phalang Pracharat, which nominated junta-leader and current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha as its candidate, has said it will not discuss coalition possibilities, as the country should instead be focused on the coronation.

What about the lèse-majesté laws?

Thailand’s lèse-majesté law refers to Article 112 of the criminal code, which provides a jail term of between three and 15 years for anyone who defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, or the heir-apparent. The law dates to when the country still had an absolute monarchy, but its use increased significantly after the 2014 military coup.

Critics of the law say that its vague language allows for people to use it broadly against opponents. Anyone may file a complaint, which must be investigated by police. Advocates say it is necessary to protect the royals, who they say are unable to defend themselves.

Cases have included a man who posted images of King Bhumbol’s favourite dog on Facebook in a way that the prosecutor said mocked the king and a historian who suggested that a Thai king who ruled more than 500 years ago may not actually have defeated a Burmese opponent in combat on elephant-back as is popularly believed.

There are indications, however, the increase in prosecutions has come to a halt. No new lèse-majesté charges have been laid for the past year. Critics say that open discussion of the monarchy will still be restricted under computer crimes and cybersecurity legislation.

 - Asia Media Centre