Thais mark new King’s birthday with monks, stamps

BANGKOK – Monks lined the streets and glittering commemorative stamps were issued on Friday as Thais marked the 65th birthday of King Maha Vajiralongkorn- his first as monarch of the politically febrile nation.

Vajiralongkorn took the throne late last year after the death of his deeply revered father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who commanded a cult-like following during his 70-year reign.

Thailand is still mourning Bhumibol’s death and Friday’s celebrations were muted compared to the parades and other festivities that marked the birthdays of the late king, who used the occasion to give annual speeches.

It was not clear if Vajiralongkorn was in his kingdom or abroad, where he spends much of his time.

He did not attend a morning ceremony outside Bangkok’s Royal Plaza where more than 600 Buddhist monks lined up to receive alms from junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha and other officials.

Similar ceremonies were held across the country, with businesses erecting portraits of the new monarch in the run-up to his birthday.

Crowds lined up outside Bangkok post offices to get special edition stamps of Vajiralongkorn, known as King Rama X.

“The first day of the sales of the first stamp in the reign of King Rama X…was met with huge public interest,” Thailand’s postal service said in a statement.

Royal affairs are a highly sensitive topic in Thailand, where the monarchy has limited power on paper but wields vast influence behind the scenes.

Vajiralongkorn is protected from criticism by a severe royal defamation law that has been aggressively enforced by the ultra-royalist junta that seized power in 2014.

The opacity of palace affairs — and curbs on scrutinizing the institution — make it difficult to parse the new king’s relationship with the military and other powerbrokers.

But he has already asserted himself with several moves that consolidate his control over the palace bureaucracy and reduce government oversight.

Last week Vajiralongkorn was granted power to appoint all members of a body that oversees the Palace’s multi-billion dollar financial portfolio.

The committee was previously headed by the finance minister.

He has also taken direct control of five state agencies overseeing palace affairs and security that were previously run by the government or military.

Earlier in the year the junta removed constitutional provisions that required him to appoint a regent when overseas or have all royal decrees countersigned by a government official.

All media based in Thailand must self-censor when reporting on the monarchy to avoid violating the lese majeste law.