I have been “silent” here on Asian Meanderings for quite some time now. I have, however, maintained daily (yes, daily!) and often lengthy articles on my main stamp-collecting blog — A Stamp A Day. As my place of work is closed today (and I have my regular weekly day off tomorrow), I felt that this holiday weekend would be a fine time to try and get caught up on my other blogs.
July 28 is the birthday of King Rama X of Thailand who ascended the throne upon the death of his father, the late King Bhumiphol Adulyadej (Rama IX) who passed away on October 13, 2016. No date has yet been set for the coronation but it should be remembered that King Bhumiphol ascended the throne upon the death of his older brother in 1946 but the coronation ceremony didn’t occur until mid-1950. This year, the celebrations of His Majesty’s birthday seem to be a bit less subdued than they were a year ago mainly because they coincide with the twin Buddhist holidays of Wan Asanhabucha (วันอาสาฬหบูชา) — which commemorates the Buddha’s first discourse, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta — and Wan Khao Phansa (วันเข้าพรรษา) — an observance marking the beginning of Vassa, the three-month rains’ retreat also known as Buddhist Lent during which monastics remain in one place, typically in monasteries or temple grounds.
While Buddhist Lent Day falls on July 28 this year, the official name of the holiday is King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s Birthday (Wan Chaloem Phra Chonmaphansa Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua Maha Wachiralongkon Bodinthrathepphayawarangkun — วันเฉลิมพระชนมพรรษาสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัวมหาวชิราลงกรณ บดินทรเทพยวรางกูร). The remainder of this article is sourced from one I put together last year for A Stamp A Day which, was sourced largely from Wikipedia and English-language media here in Thailand.
His Majesty Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (มหาวชิราลงกรณ บดินทรเทพยวรางกูร) was born on July 28, 1952, in the Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall of the Dusit Palace in Bangkok. When the crown prince was one year old, Somdet Phra Sangkharat Chao Kromma Luang Wachirayanawong, the 13th Supreme Patriarch of Thailand of the Rattanakosin Era, gave the child his first name at birth, Vajiralongkorn Borommachakkrayadisonsantatiwong Thewetthamrongsuboriban Aphikhunuprakanmahittaladunladet Phumiphonnaretwarangkun Kittisirisombunsawangkhawat Borommakhattiyaratchakuman (วชิราลงกรณ บรมจักรยาดิศรสันตติวงศ เทเวศรธำรงสุบริบาล อภิคุณูประการมหิตลาดุลเดช ภูมิพลนเรศวรางกูร กิตติสิริสมบูรณ์สวางควัฒน์ บรมขัตติยราชกุมาร). He is the only son, the second of the four children of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit.
Vajiralongkorn began his education in 1956, when he entered kindergarten at the Chitralada School in Dusit Palace. After completing Mathayom 1 (grade seven), he was sent to study at public schools in the United Kingdom, first at King’s Mead School, Seaford, Sussex, and then at Millfield School, Somerset, where he completed his secondary education in July 1970. In August 1970, he attended a five-week military training course at The King’s School, in Sydney, Australia.
In 1972, the prince enrolled at the Royal Military College, Duntroon in Canberra, Australia. His education at Duntroon was divided into two parts, military training by the Australian Army and a bachelor’s degree course under the auspices of the University of New South Wales. He graduated in 1976 as a newly commissioned lieutenant with a liberal arts degree. In 1982, he completed a second bachelor’s degree in law with second-class honors at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.
Vajiralongkorn was proclaimed crown prince on December 28, 1972, at 12:23 in the stately Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, making him the third crown prince of the Chakri Dynasty. An excerpt from the royal command to establish the title of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn reads:
“As stated in the bliss or the royal statutes of the country, when a Royal Prince who is destined to be heir to the throne is mature, the King shall graciously bestow the rank upon him of Somdet Phra Yuphorot Mokutrotchokumon. At this present time, all people including citizens of nations all over the world shall accept and acclaim that His Royal Highness Prince Vajiralongkorn shall to succeed to the throne of the Kingdom. When His Royal Highness Prince is mature, at the time that he shall be established as heir to the throne, tradition and a royal tradition Kattii ceremony should be observed, consistent with the citizens and all leaders of the country of all sides. Therefore, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej hereby decrees for His Royal Highness Prince Vajiralongkorn to be His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn in accordance with the name written in the Supannabhat as: Somdet Phra Boromma-orasathirat Chao Fa Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun Sirikittayasombunsawangwat Worakhuttiyarajsantiwong Mahitalaphong Adulayadet Chakkrinaresyuppharajvisut Sayammakutratchakuman.“
He had taken up his duties while serving in the Royal Thai Armed Forces, including frequent provincial tours and representing King Bhumibol at a wide variety of official functions and ceremonies before he ascended the throne.
On November 6, 1978, the prince was ordained as a monk at Wat Phra Sri Rattana Satsadaram (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), at age 26. As is traditional for royals, he stayed at Wat Bowonniwet Vihara for 15 days and under the monastic name “Vajiralongkornno”.
After completing his studies, Vajiralongkorn served as a career officer in the Royal Thai Army. He served as a staff officer in the Directorate of Army Intelligence, attended the Command and General Staff College in 1977. Vajiralongkorn trained for periods with the U.S., British, and Australian armed services, studying unconventional warfare and advanced navigation. He is a qualified fixed-wing and helicopter pilot. In 1978 he became head of the King’s Own Bodyguard Battalion. Later that year he interrupted his military career to be ordained for a season as a Buddhist monk, as is customary for all Thai Buddhist men.
On January 3, 1977, Vajiralongkorn married Princess Soamsawali Kitiyakara (born 1957), a first cousin on his mother’s side. They had one daughter, Princess Bajrakitiyabha (born 1978). Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn started living with actress Yuvadhida Polpraserth in the late 1970s and had five children with her. Although Princess Soamsawali had refused divorce for many years, Vajiralongkorn was finally able to sue for divorce in the Family Court in January 1993. In the court proceedings, Vajiralongkorn accused Princess Soamsawali of being completely at fault for the failed relationship. She was not able to refute the charges due to the prohibition against lèse majesté. The divorce was finalized in July 1993. Princess Soamsawali and her daughter continue to play a significant role in royal ceremonies.
When Vajiralongkorn was introduced to Yuvadhida Polpraserth, she was an aspiring actress. She became his steady companion and gave birth to his first son, Prince Juthavachara Mahidol, on August 29, 1979. He later had three more sons and a daughter by her. They were married at a palace ceremony in February 1994, where they were blessed by the King and the Princess Mother, but not by the Queen. After the marriage, she was allowed to change her name to Mom Sujarinee Mahidol na Ayudhaya, signifying she was a commoner married to a royal. She was also commissioned as a major in the Royal Thai Army and took part in royal ceremonies with Vajiralongkorn. In 1996, two years after the wedding, Mom Sujarinee (as she was now known) decamped to Britain with all her children, while Vajiralongkorn caused posters to be placed all around his palace accusing her of committing adultery with Anand Rotsamkhan, a 60-year-old air marshal. Later, the prince abducted the daughter and brought her back to Thailand to live with him. She was later elevated to the rank of princess, whilst Sujarinee and her sons were stripped of their diplomatic passports and royal titles. Sujarinee and her sons moved to the United States, and as of 2007, she was known as Sujarinee Vivacharawongse.
Vajiralongkorn was married a third time on February 10, 2001, to Srirasmi Suwadee (royal name: Akharaphongpreecha), a commoner of modest background who had been in his service since 1992. The marriage was not disclosed to the public until early 2005. She gave birth to a son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, on April 29, 2005, and was then elevated to the rank of princess. Her son was immediately elevated to the rank of prince. In a magazine interview, Vajiralongkorn stated his intention to settle down.
In November 2014, however, Vajiralongkorn sent a letter to the interior ministry asking for Princess Srirasmi’s family to be stripped of the royal name Akharaphongpreecha awarded to her, following allegations of corruption against seven of her relatives. The following month, Srirasmi relinquished her royal titles and the royal name and was officially divorced from Vajiralongkorn. She received 200 million baht (U.S. $5.5 million) as a settlement. They had been married for 13 years.
Vajiralongkorn holds the ranks of Field Marshal (Chom Phon) in the Royal Thai Army, Admiral of the Fleet (Chom Phon Ruea) in the Royal Thai Navy, and Marshal of the Royal Thai Air Force (Chom Phon Ek) in the Royal Thai Air Force. He is qualified to pilot the Northrop F-5 and many other aircraft including the F-16 and the Boeing 737-400. At various times, he engaged in actions for counter-insurgency purposes in the North and Northeast of Thailand, as well as for protective purposes in areas around the then Cambodian refugee camps at Khao Lant, Trat Province. His military role in recent years has become increasingly ceremonial. As his father grew older, Vajiralongkorn took a more prominent part in royal ceremonial and public appearances. He officially opened the 2007 Southeast Asian Games, held in Nakhon Ratchasima. The event occurred one day after the 80th birthday of his father,
Vajiralongkorn established the “Crown Prince Hospitals” through funds donated by the public to serve as medical and health care centers for people living in remote areas. Crown Prince Hospitals had been set up in 21 locations in 1977. These hospitals had become major community hospitals providing services of international standard to the general public in 2011.
Also interested in agricultural development, Vajiralongkorn has accepted the “Mobile Agricultural Clinic Project” under his patronage. The project provides prompt services to farmers in order to enhance efficiency in farm production and solve farmers’ problems. It comprises experts in various agricultural fields who can advise farmers on plants, livestock, fisheries, and land development. He also offers suggestions on the tackling of agricultural problems, in addition to the application of agricultural technology to increase productivity and the improvement in the quality of agricultural production.
The team of the Mobile Agricultural Clinic can move quickly to various spots that are in need of help. It has worked steadily and is ready to provide technical services and transfer technology. With this project, farmers have been urged to be aware of agricultural development and the application of new technology.
In recent years Vajiralongkorn had represented the late King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, in presiding over the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony, which is meaningful to Thai farmers. Aware of the importance of efficient agriculture for better productivity, Vajiralongkorn emphasized full-cycle agricultural activities, believing they will help improve the quality of life of farmers, who are traditionally considered the backbone of the nation.
Vajiralongkorn has initiated education projects with the aim of improving children’s access to quality learning and instilling the concept of lifelong learning. He has special ties to the Rajabhat University system of 40 institutions of higher learning. The chairman of the Council of Rajabhat University Presidents of Thailand said that Vajiralongkorn has presided over commencement ceremonies at all Rajabhat Universities nationwide and personally handed out degrees to all Rajabhat university graduates every year since 1978. It is estimated that over the past 35 years at least 2,100,000 degrees have been handed out by the crown prince to Rajabhat graduates. In addition, every year he donates 42 million baht to a scholarship fund benefiting Rajabhat students.
Although Vajiralongkorn’s appearances have been less frequent than those of his sisters, who travel abroad to promote their homeland, he made two high-profile public appearances in 2015 in Thailand, known as Bike for Mom and Bike for Dad, leading thousands in mass bicycling events both in Bangkok and nationwide to honor the birthdays of his parents, Queen Sirikit and King Bhumibol. These two events promoted unity and health among the Thais of all classes.
As prescribed in to the 2007 Constitution, the cabinet requested the president of the National Assembly to invite Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn to the throne following the death of his father, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej, on October 13, 2016. Vajiralongkorn was expected to succeed to the throne of Thailand but asked for time to mourn before beginning his reign. On the night of December 1, 2016, the fiftieth day after the death of King Bhumibol, Regent Prem Tinsulanonda led the heads of the country’s three branches of government to an audience with Vajiralongkorn to invite him to ascend to the throne as the tenth king of the Chakri dynasty. Vajiralongkorn accepted the invitation, saying in a televised statement: “I would like to accept in order to fulfill his majesty’s wishes and for the benefit of all Thais.” The government retroactively declared his reign to have begun upon his father’s death, but it will not crown him formally until after the cremation of his father. He maintained his residence at the Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall where he was already living before his father’s death.
Following the resignation of the councilors to Bhumibol Adulyadej, Vajiralongkorn has appointed 10 members of the Privy Council. The command was issued under Section 2 of the 2014 interim constitution, completed with Sections 12, 13 and 16 of the 2007 constitution on the king which were retained and remain in effect. The remaining seven members are Surayud Chulanont, Kasem Wattanachai, Palakorn Suwanrath, Atthaniti Disatha-amnarj, Supachai Poo-ngam, Chanchai Likhitjitta and Chalit Pukbhasuk and the three new members are Paiboon Koomchaya, Dapong Ratanasuwan and Teerachai Nakwanich. Prem tinsulanonda was re-appointed Privy Council president under royal command. On December 13, 2016, Vajiralongkorn appointed more new two members — Wirach Chinvinitkul and Charunthada Karnasuta. On December 25, 2016, the King one additional member, Kampanart Rooddit. On January 19, 2017, Privy Councillor Chanchai Likhitjitta died at the age of 71 due to blood-system problems. The new appointments and the death of a member brought the total numbers of the Privy Council to 13.
Thailand’s military-backed parliament voted overwhelmingly in January 2017 to make amendments to the interim constitution so as to allow amendments to the draft constitution as suggested by the new king’s office, a move likely to delay a general election scheduled for the end of the year. Critics said the new constitution would give the military a powerful political say for years or decades. The 2017 Constitution of Thailand was approved in a referendum in 2016, and was endorsed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn on April 6, 2017, Chakri Day, in a ceremony at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the office of King Vajiralongkorn had asked for several changes to clauses related to royal power in the draft constitution, a rare intervention by a sitting Thai monarch. After the death of King Bhumibol, political activity was paused during a period of mourning expected to end at the end of 2017, followed by the coronation of Vajiralongkorn and a general election.
There is a strict, and strictly enforced, lèse majesté law in Thailand. Criticism of the king, queen, crown prince, regents, and their pets has long been strictly prohibited, with large fines and prison sentences of up to 35 years being imposed. However, Vajiralongkorn’s private life continues to be a controversial subject of discussion in Thailand, although not publicly. Domestic and foreign-based media has been strongly urged to refrain from publishing negative remarks about the Thai royal family. On May 17, 2017, Thai officials warned Facebook following online postings of a less-than-flattering video of the King.
In July 2017, Thailand amended a royal property law to formally give King Vajiralongkorn full control of the agency that manages the multi-billion dollar holdings of the monarchy. That followed the transfer in April of various royal agencies from the government to the king’s supervision. The King has also been reshaping the palace staff and style — noticeable in the more robust language of some announcements: one official was fired for “extremely evil” misconduct.
Vajiralongkorn has spent much of the last few years abroad and has continued to do so since he took the throne. He owns a home in Munich, Germany, where his son is at school. A request to Thai embassies last year to say what they were planning for the birthday celebrations came from a “Munich Operations Office” with an address at the 5-star Hilton Munich Airport hotel, It was signed by Pinthep Devakula Na Ayudhaya, a minister at the Thai Embassy in Berlin.
The king’s life abroad has also contrasted with his very traditionalist approach at home, filled with ceremonies and where he has instituted weekend band concerts in order to “bring happiness to the people”.
Of course, the new reign has seen coins, currency and stamps portraying the new reign. Most of the new coins and banknotes began circulating in early April 2018 in conjunction with Chakri Day. The first issue of King Rama X definitive stamps were scheduled to be released in April as well but were delayed until today. The 12 denominations range from 1 baht to 100 baht (a total face value of 250 baht) and will be sold individually as well as in a souvenir sheet containing all 12 sold for 265 baht. Historically, these types of royal souvenir sheets have increased in value rather substantially. The Thai press is reporting that these, and the 10-baht birthday commemorative stamp are the first to picture Vajiralongkorn. This isn’t correct as there was a birthday commemorative stamp portraying him as King Rama X issued on his birthday in 2017 as well as a number of earlier stamps picturing him as a prince. The press also claims that the 10-baht stamp will actually be sold for 20 baht. The 500- and 1,000-baht banknotes are also due to begin circulating today.