Bangkok (AFP) – Thailand’s newly-crowned King Maha Vajiralongkorn was carried by soldiers on a gilded palanquin through the streets of Bangkok Sunday, in front of crowds who craned to witness the historic event.
The king, Rama X of the Chakri dynasty, wore a bejewelled robe and broad-brimmed hat with a feather on the second of three days of pageantry and royal splendour.
The 7-kilometre procession brings the public into close proximity with the 66-year-old monarch for the first time, two years after he ascended the throne in an increasingly assertive reign.
It started around 5pm (1000 GMT) at the grand palace in Bangkok’s old quarter as trumpets blared, soldiers shouted commands and cannons fired a 21-gun salute.
Thais wearing yellow shirts — the royal colour — and carrying hats and umbrellas to protect against temperatures reaching 36 degrees Celsius filled the streets outside with many clutching portraits of Vajiralongkorn and shouting “Long live the King!
“It may be my first and last chance to see this,” 57-year-old street Nattriya Siripattana told AFP ahead of the first ceremony of its kind in 69 years.
The three-day coronation, which started Saturday, is the first since Vajiralongkorn’s adored and revered father was crowned in 1950.
The highlight of Saturday’s sombre ceremonies was the King’s anointment with holy water, before he placed the 7.3 kilogram (16 lbs) golden tiered crown on his head.
Early Sunday, the king bestowed royal titles on family members who crawled to his throne in a striking show of deference to the monarch, who was joined by his new Queen Suthida.
The queen, 40, was deputy commander of the king’s royal guard before her marriage to Vajiralongkorn, which was announced days before the coronation.
During the procession, she marched in red and black uniform next to the palanquin.
Thailand’s monarchy is swaddled in ritual, protocol and hierarchy all orbiting around the king, who is viewed as a demigod.
During the hours-long procession Thais will have the opportunity to “pay homage” to the king who will also stop at several major temples to pray before large gilded Buddha images.
On the ground authorities sprayed mists of water over the crowds whose numbers were bolstered by droves of “Jit Arsa” — or “Spirit Volunteers” — intended to project a show of devotion and fealty to the monarchy.
But soaring temperatures threatened to thin out the numbers.
Vajiralongkorn ascended the throne in 2016 after the death of his father Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The elaborate coronation ceremonies have been broadcast on live television and include a network of the powerful and influential in Thailand.
Junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who seized power in a 2014 coup, took part in many of the key rituals, including the procession.
The king and queen stayed the previous night in the royal residence, where a Siamese cat and a white rooster were placed on a pillow as part of housewarming rituals intended to bring good tidings.
One of the family members to receive royal titles was 14-year-old Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, who knelt and prostrated in front of his father as he was anointed with water.
The teenager is the king’s son from his third marriage. He has six other children, including four sons from two previous wives.
– ‘Focus on politics’ –
Criticism or in-depth discussion of the royal family in Thailand is guarded by harsh lese-majeste rules that carry up to 15 years in prison.
All media must self-censor and the country’s lively social media platforms have been subdued.
But the dazzling display of the primacy of the monarchy in Thai life belies a simmering political crisis held over from elections in March.
The junta that seized power in 2014 and has vowed to defend the monarchy is aiming to return to power through the ballot box.
Its proxy party has claimed the popular vote. But a coalition of anti-military parties says it has shored up a majority in the lower house.
Full results are not expected until May 9, a delay that has frustrated many Thais.
“When the event (coronation) is finished we will have to focus on politics,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, a lecturer at Ubon Ratchathani University.
Since ascending the throne the king has taken several assertive moves, including bringing the assets of the Crown Property Bureau under his direct control.
Though the royal family is nominally above politics, the king issued an election-eve message calling on Thais to vote for “good people” against those who create “chaos”.
And in February, he scuttled the prime ministerial bid of his older sister Princess Ubolratana with an anti-junta party.