Thai King Celebrates Coronation With Spectacular Parade

Thailand’s newly crowned King Maha Vajiralongkorn during the coronation procession, in Bangkok, Thailand May 5, 2019. (Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)

Thailand’s newly crowned King Maha Vajiralongkorn made a spectacular public appearance in front of his countrymen Sunday, carried atop a golden palanquin by soldiers in ancient fighting uniforms in a procession through Bangkok’s historic quarter.

Soldiers marched in front, behind and alongside the palanquin in scorching heat as the procession set off from Bangkok’s Grand Palace just after 5 p.m. as a marching band set the pace. Also taking part in the slow march were the prime minister and other senior officials in the military government as well as the king’s wife, Queen Suthida, and one of his daughters, Princess Bajrakitiyabha.

Vajiralongkorn on Saturday took part in an elaborate set of rituals that established his status as a full-fledged monarch with complete regal powers.

Also known as King Rama X, the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty, Vajiralongkorn had already been serving as king since the October 2016 death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was on the throne for seven decades.

Though Thailand has had a constitutional monarchy since 1932, when a revolution ended absolute rule by kings, the country’s monarchs are regarded as almost divine and have been seen as a unifying presence in a country that has seen regular bouts of political instability as it rotates between elected governments and military rule.

Vajiralongkorn since taking the throne has tightened control over royal institutions and acted to increase his influence in his country’s administration. Like kings before him, he is protected by one of the world’s strictest lèse-majesté laws, which makes criticism of him and other top royals punishable by up to 15 years in prison and has dampened open debate about the monarchy’s role in society.

Onlookers who crowded the sidewalks Sunday along the 4.3-mile parade route were almost all wearing yellow shirts, a color closely associated with the monarchy. The 66-year-old king wore heavy, gold-embroidered vestments and a soft, wide-brimmed hat.

Some of those watching the parade clasped their hands in reverence; others took photos with their cellphones. When Vajiralongkorn passed by, there were shouts of “Long Live the King.” The 109-member marching band played tunes composed by his father, who was an enthusiastic musician.

“I love and respect the monarchy,” said Sujitra Bokularb, a 43-year-old business woman who left home 4 a.m. to reach the parade. “We have been shown the importance of this institution since we were young and how much the previous king had done for us. I think the new king will continue his legacy.”

Vajiralongkorn was shielded from some of the fading sun by an ocher umbrella. After slightly more than an hour of marching, the king reached Wat Bovoranives, the first of three temples where he was scheduled to stop and pay homage to his royal ancestors.

The march was expected to be completed in about five hours.

Earlier Sunday, the king began his second day of coronation activities by granting new titles to members of the royal family in front of an audience of dignitaries including top government officials and senior Buddhist monks.

He launched the Sunday morning event in a hall at the Grand Palace by paying respects in front of portraits of his late father and his mother, who has been hospitalized for an extended period. His 86-year-old mother, known as Queen Sirikit, was granted a new official title of Queen Mother.

Vajiralongkorn’s son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, was one of the family members granted a fresh title for the new reign. He turned 14 on April 29 and is the heir presumptive.

While Saturday’s ceremonies were solemn and heavily tinged with age-old rites, including the prominent presence of Brahmin priests, Sunday morning’s event was slightly more relaxed, though also steeped with traditional royal and Buddhist gestures.

Live coverage showed some glimpses of informality: Queen Suthida exchanging a brief aside with Vajiralongkorn; two of his daughters in a warm hug after the second one returned from receiving her new title.

Monday will see the king greet the public from the balcony of the Grand Palace in the late afternoon and then hold a reception for the diplomatic corps.

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