BANGKOK - Thailand’s crown prince, Maha Vajiralongkorn, has ascended to the throne as the country’s new king, marking a new era in Thai history after the 70-year reign of his late father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October.
Thai media reported late Thursday the 64-year-old crown prince had accepted an invitation to ascend to the throne presented by Thai National Legislative Assembly President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai.
The "invitation" was made to the crown prince just hours after returning from Germany where he also has a residence.
The new monarch will be known as His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, and will be Thailand’s 10th king of the Chakri Dynasty.
The date of the coronation day has not yet been set. But it is likely to take place after the royal cremation of King Bhumibol, expected late in 2017.
The process began earlier this week when the president of the National Legislative Assembly ‘invited’ Vajiralongkorn to ascend to the throne “and become king of the Thai people”.
Since a revolution in 1932 overturned the absolute monarchy, the role of the king in Thailand has been as a constitutional head of state.
Vijiralongkorn, whom Bhumipol anointed as his heir in 1972, will be the 10th in line of , which dates back to 1782. The line was noted by the reign of Rama V, King Chulalongkorn from 1868 to 1920, known for his steps at modernizing the country.
Thailand has been in deep mourning for King Bhumipol since he passed away at the age of 88 on October 13. Vijralongkorn initially delayed announcement of his accession saying he wanted to ‘mourn with the Thai people” before taking up his new role.
The crown prince and his sister, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, were taking a larger role in the formal duties once carried out by their father as the late king’s health declined.
Thailand is currently ruled by a military junta, which took power in May 2014 after overthrowing the elected government. But analysts say the military’s intervention in the national government had been expected to ensure a “steadying hand” during the royal transition.
The crown prince received his education in Bangkok, London and Sydney, as well as graduating from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in Canberra, Australia in the 1970s. He is also a qualified military and civilian pilot.
During his military involvement, he has held the ranks of general in the Royal Thai Army, admiral in the Royal Thai Navy and air chief marshal in the Royal Thai Air Force.
In 1987 as King Bhumibol marked his 60th birthday, Vajiralongkorn, then age 35, in comments to foreign media in Bangkok, spoke of the responsibilities as he prepared to be the next king.
“I fully realize my position as crown prince of Thailand and I fully accept his royal commands and the responsibilities that come with the job,” Vajiralongkorn was quoted by the Far Eastern Economic Review.
“I am one of many loyal servants of the crown and we, as a team endeavor, to the best of our limited knowledge to serve their Majesties, the monarchy and the country,” he said.
But over many years the crown prince has faced accusations of being a ‘playboy’ with his personal life under scrutiny, amid three marriages and fathering seven children. His third wife, Sirirasmi Suwadee, bore the crown prince a son who remains with his father.
As far back as 1993, the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine reported comments by Vajiralongkorn, striking out against rumors surrounding his private life.
The magazine said the crown prince’s pointed remarks were “more understandable in the longer content of success to the throne.”
In recent decades, reports also connected the crown prince to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled Thailand in 2008 in the face of corruption charges.
But other reports regarding the crown prince are less clear, with Thailand’s tough Les Majeste laws protecting the immediate royal family, with those found guilty facing long jail sentences.
Before his father’s death, the military government stepped up efforts to raise the crown prince’s profile through nationwide bike riding days.
Analysts say a challenge for Vajiralongkorn will be to gain merit in the eyes of the Thai community given the revered stance his father had achieved over seven decades on the throne.
Many Thais, out of respect for the late king, are now looking to Vajiralongkorn to ensure unity within the royal family as he takes steps to gain wider acceptance among the public to his new role.