Thailand's new king Maha Vajiralongkorn. -File Photo
Thailand's new king has ordered sections of the country's draft constitution to be rewritten, the junta chief said Tuesday; a rare public intervention by the monarch in the kingdom's politics. King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, ascended the throne after the October death of his much-loved father King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a unifying figure whose reign spanned seven politically turbulent decades. Like most things regarding Thailand's secrecy-shrouded monarchy, Vajiralongkorn's approach to the crown remains a mystery and is not open to detailed scrutiny. The country's constitutional monarchy is granted limited formal powers but wields significant political clout behind the scenes and controls vast wealth.
It is also protected by a draconian lese majeste law, forcing media and the public to self-censor. On Friday junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha said the king had declined to sign off on the new charter because of clauses concerning royal powers. His majesty's private principle secretary has sent a letter to the government saying the discussion is needed on the section of the charter regarding the monarchy, the junta leader told reporters. The document was drafted by the junta after its 2014 power grab and approved in a controversial referendum last year in which independent campaigning was banned.
There are three or four points that need to be amended concerning his authority (as king), Prayut said, without elaborating on which specific clauses would be altered. The revision process would take several months, he added.
It is an unusually assertive move by the palace an institution long portrayed as staunchly above politics despite several key interventions by Bhumibol during times of political crisis. The late monarch also forged close ties with the military during his rule and signed off on a dozen coups. Vajiralongkorn's relationship with the military and its allies within the Bangkok elite is less clear cut.
The current junta seized power in a coup that analysts believe was staged to ensure a smooth succession as Bhumibol's health waned. The army has promised an eventual return to democracy but the timeline for elections keeps slipping.