New Thai king urges unity in New Year's Eve address
BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand's new King Maha Vajiralongkorn urged his subjects to unite in a New Year's Eve speech delivered on Saturday, December 31, his first major address to the politically-split nation since ascending to the throne.
Thailand has been gripped with grief ever since the October passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a profoundly revered monarch who steered the country through seven decades of political turmoil.
His only son Vajiralongkorn, who has spent much of his life abroad, does not enjoy the same level of adoration.
Yet like his father the 64-year-old is shielded from criticism by a harsh royal defamation law that effectively blocks public scrutiny of the monarchy.
As a result, little is known about what the 64-year-old will do with a crown that is granted few legal powers but became a position of vast influence under his father's charismatic reign.
In the nationally-televised speech on Saturday, Vajiralongkorn urged his countrymen to find common ground as they head into the new year.
"No matter what types of obstacles, problems, or irregularities occur, if we unite then all of them can definitely be resolved", he counselled from behind a desk in Bangkok's Dusit palace.
The monarch added that he was "overwhelmed and impressed" by the outpouring of grief sparked by his father's death.
"This is a testament to how Thais are grateful, kind, compassionate and patriotic," he said.
Bhumibol charmed Thais with his reputation as a hard-working king who dedicated himself to rural development projects for the poor.
His also delivered annual speeches that were peppered with moral guidance to a country battered by political protests and military coups.
But the revered monarch largely retreated from public life as his health declined over the past decade, while Thailand became increasingly engulfed by a bitter power struggle between a royalist elite and a rural poor.
The new king has inherited this fractured kingdom, now firmly in the grip of an arch-royalist junta that has clamped down on pro-democracy voices. – Agence France-Presse