Thai king’s future role still unclear

Bangkok, May 03 (AP):
Three days of elaborate centuries-old ceremonies begin Saturday for the formal coronation of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has been on the throne for more than two years.
What Vajiralongkorn also known as King Rama X, the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty will do with the power and influence the venerated status confers is still not clear.
The 66-year-old monarch has sent mixed signals. Bursts of assertiveness alternate with a seemingly hands off approach in other matters a perception girded by the amount of time he spends at a large residence in Germany.
On Wednesday, he suddenly announced his fourth marriage, to a former flight attendant who is a commander of his security detail, and appointed her Queen Suthida. The timing of the announcement, just ahead of his coronation, suggests a new commitment to his royal duties.
But he is likely to remain burdened by old gossip about his personal life that has dogged him since returning from his education in England and Australia. Many Thais are familiar with tales about his alleged exploits while he was crown prince, even though harsh laws mandate a prison term of three to 15 years for anyone found guilty of insulting the monarchy.Vajiralongkorn early on was pinned with the reputation of a playboy, a trait that even his own mother acknowledged. He has gone through bitter divorces with three women who have borne him seven children. His father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej the only monarch most Thais had known when he died in October 2016 after seven decades on the throne won most of his countrymen’s deep love and respect as an exemplar of rectitude and an avid cheerleader for his country’s economic development. His three sisters are frequently engaged in public service. “The defining years saw King Bhumibol spending large amounts of time in provincial Thailand, visiting ordinary people,” said Michael Montesano, coordinator of the Thailand Studies Program at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. “We have yet to see similar behavior on the part of his heir.” Paul Chambers, a political scientist at Naraesuan University in northern Thailand, finds Vajiralongkorn’s style “more hands off,” even as he has brought more of Thailand’s administration directly under the palace.

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