Thai Coronation Gives Glimpses of Royal Relations

Even royals are big on hugs and selfies.
Tuesday 7 May 2019
The Thai royal family is all over social media. Photo: AFP

A normally inscrutable king pulls his sister in for a hug and selfies of royal siblings rebound across Instagram – the coronation of Rama X has provided Thais rare glimpses into a highly-private family cocooned by palace protocols. King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 66, was crowned Saturday in a sumptuous ceremony rich in symbolism and ritual.

The monarchy is the apex of Thai society and projections of its power are unmissable in the kingdom, from towering portraits of the stern-faced king to stiff-backed rituals and public appearances relayed nightly on television news. But Rama X remains an intensely private figure, spending much of his time overseas.

The enigma of the new king is double-locked by one of the world’s harshest royal defamation laws, which keep a tight lid on the dissemination of royal gossip and prevent public criticism inside the kingdom. His coronation, the first in 69 years and given blanket coverage on Thai TV, has stirred curiosity over the goings-on inside the royal court. “I would like to see them loosen up a bit more so we can get to know them,” 22-year-old student Jin said near the Grand Palace, declining to give her full name.

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วันนี้(๔ พฤษภาคม ๒๕๖๒) พระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัว เสด็จออกมหาสมาคม ณ พระที่นั่งอมรินทรวินิจฉัยมไหสูรยพิมาน หมู่พระมหามณเฑียร ในพระบรมมหาราชวัง โอกาสนี้ทรงพระกรุณาโปรดเกล้าโปรดกระหม่อมพระราชทานพระราชดำรัสความว่า “ข้าพเจ้ามีความยินดีเป็นอย่างยิ่ง ที่ได้มาอยู่ในท่ามกลางมหาสมาคม พรั่งพร้อมด้วยทุกท่านจากทุกสถาบันสำคัญของชาติ และได้รับคำอวยพรอันเปี่ยมไปด้วยความปรารถนาดีและไมตรีจิต ขอขอบพระทัย และขอบใจในคำอำนวยพรและน้ำใจไมตรีของทุกท่านเป็นอย่างมาก ในโอกาสนี้ ข้าพเจ้าขอเชิญชวนทุกท่านทุกฝ่ายในมหาสมาคมนี้ และประชาชนชาวไทยทุกคน ได้ตั้งความปรารถนาร่วมกันกับข้าพเจ้า ในอันที่จะร่วมกันปฏิบัติงานตามฐานะและหน้าที่ของตน โดยยึดเอาประโยชน์ คือความเจริญมั่นคงของประเทศชาติ และความผาสุกร่มเย็นของประชาชน เป็นเป้าหมายสูงสุด ขอคุณพระรัตนตรัยและสิ่งศักดิ์สิทธิ์จงคุ้มครองรักษาทุกท่านให้ประสบความสุข ความเจริญ พร้อมด้วยพรอันเป็นมงคลทุกประการ” ✨🙏🏼👑💛👑🙏🏼✨ ขอพระองค์ทรงพระเจริญ มีพระชนมายุยิ่งยืนนาน ด้วยเกล้าด้วยกระหม่อม ขอเดชะ ✨🙏🏼👑💛👑🙏🏼✨ Today(4th May 2019), His Majesty the King grants a grand audience to members of the Royal Family, the Privy Council and the Cabinet and senior officials at Amarin Vinitchai Mahaisuraya Phiman Throne Hall, the Maha Monthien group in the Grand Palace, Bangkok. ✨🙏🏼👑💛👑🙏🏼✨ Long Live the KING ✨🙏🏼👑💛👑🙏🏼✨

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The introduction of Vajiralongkorn’s fourth wife Queen Suthida, a flight attendant turned royal bodyguard whose marriage to the king was unexpectedly announced on Wednesday after years of conjecture about her status, piqued the interest of the watching public. Jin said she was “wowed” by the king’s marriage to a commoner.

Intimate rituals.

Throughout the coronation formalities, the king has remained unsmiling – befitting the sombre, symbol-laden ceremonies held in front of a coterie of palace officials and generals. But Saturday’s rituals, symbolising his transformation from human to the divine, provided intimate imagery of the monarch.

A water purification ceremony led by Hindu Brahmins saw the king wear a white robe with one shoulder exposed, a modest moment from a monarch normally seen during official duties in military uniform.

Thailand King Coronation AFP (1) - Thailand King
Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn (L) attending the royal purification ceremony during his coronation in Bangkok. Photo: AFP

Unguarded interactions have also set tongues wagging. Newspapers ran photos of a warm meeting late Friday between the king and his family in a palace hall.

There were big smiles and a hug for Ubolratana, his colourful Instagram-posting elder sister, while his fashion designer daughter Sirivannavari and 14-year-old Dipangkorn – children from his second and third ex-wives – looked on. True to form, Ubolratana – seen as one of the more approachable royals – posted beaming selfies with her younger sister Princess Sirindhorn.

Thailand King Coronation AFP (2) - Thailand King
Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn (front L) hugging his sister Princess Ubolratana as members of the royal family look on during a ceremony in the Grand Palace in Bangkok, ahead of his royal coronation. Photo: AFP

Then on Sunday she released a mobile phone photo of her brother wearing the 7.3-kilogram tiered golden crown, hashtagging it #coronationday and #onceinalifetime. Ubolratana’s warm exchange with her brother comes after he dashed her political aspirations in the lead-up to 24 March elections, torpedoing her nomination as a prime ministerial candidate by a now-dissolved political party.

Also taking to social media was daughter Sirivannavari, posting studio photos of herself wearing an elegant golden traditional dress for the ceremonies on Facebook. There is no indication whether the flickers of informality herald a new direction by the palace PR machine or just a coincidence of modernity from royals armed with smartphones.

But observers say the effect could serve to open a channel of communication with the public. “The images of King Vajiralongkorn wearing a sacred crown and then socialising with family members serve the dual purpose of rendering him both divine and relatively approachable,” said anthropologist Edoardo Siani of Kyoto University.

Older Thais are more accustomed to their royals holding a remote, venerated position. There should be a “distance” between royals and the public, said 80-year-old Kanha Kitvej as she watched soldiers march by the Grand Palace. “I am his (the king’s) subject.”

Aunyaporn Wisanurak, 62, who had volunteered to hand out food during the coronation, echoed the sentiment, insisting nightly royal news bulletins provided ample insight. “Thai people already know every activity of their king,” she said.

Source: AFP

Related: Five Ways Thailand’s New King Has Made His Mark