“Thailand’s New King”, a Commentary by Terence Chong

2016/77, 30 November 2016

Thailand will soon have a new king. The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) held a special session on 29 November to formally acknowledge and invite Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to ascend to the throne of Thailand. The Crown Prince, however, is in Munich where he has been staying for the past month. He is scheduled to return to Bangkok on 1 December. Following this, Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, president of the NLA, will seek an audience with Vajiralongkorn and to invite him to become King Rama X. According to protocol, Vajiralongkorn will need to accept the NLA’s invitation in order to be proclaimed king. However, the prince, who will be the 10th king of the 234 year old Chakri dynasty, will only be crowned after his father’s cremation, probably in September next year.

As Thai expert Andrew Marshall points out, the procedure in which a new monarch has to be invited by the Thai parliament to become king is relatively new in Thai history. This practice only began after the absolute monarchy was overthrown in 1932 and before that crown princes regarded the throne as their birthright, and not an invitation from commoners to accept. Furthermore, according to Marshall, there were apparent plans for Thais to wear cream-coloured clothes for a week between 2-9 December to celebrate the king’s ascend; a change from the black clothes that had marked the death of his father. However, some believe that these plans were shelved to avoid embarrassment in case of poor public response.

In sum, the seven weeks since the death of King Bhumibol have thrown up more questions than they have answered. What is the relationship between the new king and the military like? What will be the consequences if the new king decides to forge ahead with his own plans or desires, ignoring the advice of the junta? Will he then forfeit the support of the military and if so, how will this affect his reign? On the other hand, as an unelected government, the junta will also seek support from the monarchy to shore up its legitimacy. How forthcoming will the new king be in his support and, perhaps more fundamentally, will the monarchy continue to be a source of moral legitimacy under the new king? What effect will the accession of the new king have on management of the immense assets of the Thai monarchy?

Dr Terence Chong is Head, Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre, and co-coordinator of the Thailand Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.