Thailand’s King Rama X – from pilot prince to monarch

BANGKOK (Reuters): Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun will be officially crowned as the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty on May 4, after taking the throne following the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in late 2016. The 66-year-old constitutional monarch had a pre-coronation surprise for his subjects: He married for the fourth time on Wednesday and named his new wife as queen.

During 18 months of his reign so far, Vajiralongkorn, also known by the title King Rama X, has moved to consolidate the authority of the monarchy, including taking more direct control of the crown’s vast wealth with the help of Thailand’s military government. In one of his most visible initiatives he has signed up some 5 million Thais to a new volunteer corps, whose members salute a portrait of the king before going out to work on community service projects such as cleaning public spaces.

Devotion to the monarch is an ingrained part of Thai culture that deepened during Bhumibol’s 70-year reign. Vajiralongkorn’s portrait has replaced or hangs alongside that of his late father in many streets, public buildings and private businesses. Public criticism of the king or his family is illegal, with insults to the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison under Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws. Vajiralongkorn was born on July 28, 1952, the second of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit’s four children and their only son.

After completing primary education in Thailand, he was educated at private schools in Britain and Australia, before attending Australia’s Royal Military College Duntroon, in Canberra, and earning a bachelor’s degree in military studies from the University of New South Wales in Australia. According to the king’s official biography, he is a qualified helicopter and fighter pilot and served as a career officer in the Royal Thai Army, where he saw action against communist insurgents in Thailand in the 1970s. As king, he is now commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Since he ascended the throne, Vajiralongkorn has asserted his authority in several ways, according to analysts observing his public actions. In July 2017, the military-appointed legislative assembly amended a 1936 law to give the king full control of the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the crown’s multi-billion dollar holdings and was previously under the supervision of the Finance Ministry. The exact value of the bureau’s real estate and other assets is not made public, but its Bangkok holdings alone were estimated at $33 billion in a 2011 biography of his father “King Bhumibol, A Life’s Work”.