Thailand coronates new monarch amidst turbulent return to democracy

Thailand coronates new monarch amidst turbulent return to democracy

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn will be officially coronated today. Thailand is ostensibly a constitutional monarchy, and its royal family is

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Photo: Reuters

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn will be officially coronated today.

Thailand is ostensibly a constitutional monarchy, and its royal family is traditionally not involved in politics. Still, the monarchy wields enormous influence in Thai society, particularly through the country’s strict lese majeste law, which makes it illegal to defame or insult the royal family.

In the two years since his father’s death, Mr Vajiralongkorn has sought to consolidate the monarchy’s power, most notably by taking personal control of the crown’s wealth—estimated to be around $33 billion.

The king served as a military officer in his youth and enjoys a close relationship with junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, so any consolidation of the monarchy’s power will likely complement the military’s own stranglehold over the country’s politics. Indeed, the king essentially endorsed pro-junta parties in Thailand’s recent elections and recently stripped prominent opposition leader and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of his royal honours.

In light of that, Mr Vajiralongkorn could be much more interventionist than most Thai monarchs. With close ties to the military, the new king will be able to subtly exercise some control over policy and use his influence to soothe any popular discontent over Thailand’s democratic slide.

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