New Thai king faces daunting task

According to the new king’s official biography, he is a qualified helicopter and fighter pilot, who saw action against communist insurgents in Thailand in the 1970s. He holds the honorary military ranks of general, admiral and air chief marshal

Thailand’s new monarch, who will be known as King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, faces a daunting task after his father gained fatherly status in a kingdom that underwent profound changes during his 70-year reign.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn was invited to ascend the throne by parliament on Tuesday and formally accepted the invitation on Thursday, when he was proclaimed king.
Thailand has been without a monarch since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on October 13 plunged the Southeast Asian nation into mourning. Most Thais have known no other monarch.
The prince on Thursday flew back to Thailand from Germany, where he has a home.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said shortly after King Bhumibol died that the prince had asked to delay his ascension while he mourned his father. His coronation will not take place until after his father’s cremation next year.
King Bhumibol revived the influence of the monarchy in a political system dominated by the military and grew in stature as a symbol of continuity during decades of rapid economic development and political turbulence.
The new King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, has yet to command the kind of adoration that King Bhumibol received from Thais and has kept a much lower public profile for most of his adult life. That has changed since 2014, when he assumed more royal duties in place of his father.
King Bhumibol’s promotion and funding of charitable work in rural areas endeared him to the population. Media coverage of his son has focused on his marriages and divorces.
The new king, like his father, is shielded from public criticism by Thailand’s lese majeste laws, under which offenders have been jailed for up to 30 years for perceived insults to the monarchy. The laws effectively restrict negative reporting in Thailand about the royal family.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn — who will also be known as Rama X, or the 10th king of Thailand’s Chakri Dynasty — takes the throne at a tumultuous time for Thailand and its monarchy.
The military toppled an elected government in 2014 and enforced a political calm on a country divided by a decade of conflict between a military-backed royalist establishment and populist political forces.
The political rivalry began after former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra came to power in 2001 as a “CEO prime minister”.
Thaksin shook up the old order and made powerful enemies. The army removed him in a 2006 coup. He now lives in exile to avoid a two-year jail sentence on a corruption conviction.
Anxiety over King Bhumibol’s failing health over the past few years also contributed to the political tension.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn was born on July 28, 1952, the second of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit’s four children and their only son.
He was educated at private schools in Britain and Australia before attending the Royal Military College Duntroon in Canberra.
Duntroon graduates remember a prince, who they nicknamed “Vaji”, enduring tough military training with no special treatment.
According to the new king’s official biography, he is a qualified helicopter and fighter pilot, who saw action against communist insurgents in Thailand in the 1970s. He holds the honorary military ranks of general, admiral and air chief marshal.
He was designated crown prince in 1972.
Asked about the pressures of the role during a 1979 BBC documentary, he said he had been a prince “from the first second of my life” and knew no other existence.
“It’s difficult to say what it is like being a fish when you are a fish, or what it is like being a bird when you are a bird,” he said. “There are pros and cons … I’m not special.”
 — Reuters