BANGKOK — Standing like monarchs before him on the balcony of the gilded Grand Palace in front of a sea of yellow-clad supporters, Thailand’s newly crowned King Maha Vajiralongkorn addressed tens of thousands of supporters Monday, his first public speech as king.
“I and the queen are pleased and delighted to see the people having goodwill, and being here all together to show good wishes for my coronation,” he said as supporters cheered. “Your unity in showing your goodwill is a good sign for everyone to do good things for the prosperity of the nation.”
His appearance before the public, ahead of a reception for Thailand’s diplomatic corps, ended an opulent and costly three-day coronation event, the likes of which this Southeast Asian country hasn’t seen for almost 70 years.
The elaborate ceremonies for Vajiralongkorn, 66, come nearly three years after his ascension to the throne following the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in 2016. The coronation was initially put off as Thailand marked a year-long period of mourning for the king, and then was delayed without explanation until May 4.
Royal pomp and ceremony in Thailand, for centuries an absolute monarchy and since 1932 a constitutional one, is unlike anywhere else in the world. On Saturday, a 16-pound cone-shaped crown — the Great Crown of Victory — was placed on Vajiralongkorn’s head, marking his official transformation into a deity-like figure.
In Thailand, the monarch is revered as a living god. On Sunday, the king was carried through Bangkok in a royal procession, lifted up on a gold throne by 16 men as about 200,000 onlookers lined the route.
Hundreds of thousands similarly gathered on Monday for a glimpse of the new king. Among them was Viroj Thanmas and his family of four, all Muslims who were fasting on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.
“We haven’t eaten since 3 a.m.,” he said, sitting close to the palace hours before the king’s appearance. “But we don’t feel tired at all. We want to be here to witness this historic day in Thailand.”
Supithsa Moadsakool, 40, arrived with three friends at the palace before noon, almost five hours ahead of the new king’s scheduled appearance, to ensure that they had a spot in the plaza right in front of the balcony.
“Over the past few years, we have been grieving the loss of the king,” she said, referring to Bhumibol, also known as Rama IX. “Now we can celebrate a joyful occasion.”
Vajiralongkorn will be known as King Rama X, the latest monarch of the Chakri dynasty, which has ruled Thailand since 1782. He is the only son of Bhumibol, and the second of his four children. He was educated in Britain and Australia and served in the Thai army until he was named heir to the throne in 1972.
His coronation comes at a delicate time in Thai politics, after an election widely considered a referendum between military rule and democracy produced inconclusive results. Electoral rules were changed ahead of the March vote to give the ruling junta, which took power from a democratically elected government in 2014, a clear upper hand.
The junta has also billed itself as the protector of the palace’s place in politics, while observers say Vajiralongkorn has asserted a bigger political and economic role for the monarchy under his reign. The king also effectively derailed his elder sister’s bid to become the prime ministerial candidate for a party linked to exiled politician Thaksin Shinawatra, raising questions about how far the palace can and should intervene and participate in the political system.
Junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is seeking to extend his term as prime minister, was front and center in much of the coronation rituals, and he read a blessing to the new king on Monday evening.
“We — the civil servants, military, police and the people — will be loyal to you and the Chakri dynasty for life,” Prayuth said. On behalf of the Thai people, he wished the king a long life.
Just days before his appointment, Vajiralongkorn appointed as his queen Suthida Tidjai, a 40-year-old former flight attendant and his fourth wife. One of his prior wives, actress Yuvadhida Polpraserth, was exiled to the United States after Vajiralongkorn accused her of adultery. Another, Srirasmi Suwadee, had her royal title stripped after allegations of corruption among her family.
Criticism of the monarch is criminalized under Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws, the toughest in the world. Yet, in hushed tones, some Thais and analysts point out that Vajiralongkorn’s reputation and standing differ from those of his father, who, as the world’s longest-reigning monarch at the time of his death, was widely beloved nationwide.
The coronation tied Vajiralongkorn closer to his late father. He wore the same gold-embroidered black hat that his father did when he ascended to the throne. The balcony in the Grand Palace was also where Bhumibol greeted the public for the first time after his coronation. He would appear on the balcony annually on his birthday, Dec. 5, until his health declined. His last appearance was in December 2012, when he delivered a speech calling for compassion during the political crisis at the time.
The supporters gathered before Vajiralongkorn on Monday, however, saw no difference between the father and the son.
“The more we love his father, the more we love him. Father and son are not different to us,” Thanmas said. “Both of them are the kings of Thailand, the center of the Thai people.”