BANGKOK – Thailand celebrated the 68th birthday of King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Tuesday in a series of official ceremonies.
Events took place in the capital and other cities amid physical distancing measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and which the monarch did not attend.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha led a morning ceremony with his wife, cabinet members and 69 Buddhist monks in Sanam Luang Square in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
The prime minister led MPs in an annual oath in front of the king’s portrait: “We do solemnly swear that (as officials) we will do good deeds, we will be the force of the country.
“We will work honestly and follow in His Majesty’s footsteps to solve the problems of the nation and the people.”
Similar ceremonies took place in other parts of the country and the prime minister will preside over a vigil on Tuesday evening in central Bangkok.
The monarch, also known as King Rama X, will be absent from all events as he has been staying in Germany with a sizeable entourage in a four-star hotel in the Bavarian Alps during the coronavirus crisis.
Physical distancing measures were in place for the ceremonies as the country is under a state of emergency until Aug. 31 due to the pandemic.
There have been a total of 3,297 confirmed cases and 58 deaths, according to officials.
Vajiralongkorn’s behavior during the pandemic has made him the subject of unprecedented criticism in Thailand.
The monarch plays an important role in the country and Thailand has one of the harshest lèse-majesté laws in the world, which forbid any public debate on the monarch’s decisions and with penalties of between three and 15 years in prison for defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir or members of the royal household.
Vajiralongkorn inherited the throne after the death of his father King Bhumibol in 2016, although he was not coronated until last year.
But he has not inherited his father’s popularity, the late king reigned for seven decades and was revered by many Thais as the father of the nation and a semi-divine figure.
Since his ascension to the throne, Vajiralongkorn has expanded his powers and control over the money and vast estates of the royal household, as well as over the powerful military establishment, which has seized power in 13 coups d’état since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.
Vajiralongkorn has been married four times and has seven children from these unions.
His current wife is Queen Suthida, a 41-year-old former flight attendant whom he married in a private ceremony at Dusit Palace in Bangkok on May 1, 2019.
Vajiralongkorn’s coronation took place three days later in a traditional ceremony followed by a procession in which he was carried in a palanquin through the streets of the capital.
In July last year, the monarch appointed a 34-year-old former nurse, Niramon Ounprom, as a royal consort, but she fell out of favor three months later, was expelled from the palace and her current whereabouts are unknown.
The consort title had not been used since polygamy was discontinued in the Thai royal household at the beginning of the last century.