Quirks of the enigmatic, powerful man about to be crowned Thailand's king
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- Maha Vajiralongkorn, about to officially be crowned Thailand's king, remains something of a mystery man.
- Issues tied to climate change could make for a stormy meeting between the prime minister and Alberta's new premier.
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Crowning Thailand's King
The people of Thailand knew that they were going to be crowning a new King this weekend, but the Queen comes as a bit of a surprise.
The announcement of the wedding of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and the woman long-suspected, but never officially confirmed, to be his girlfriend, Suthida Tidjai, came via a proclamation in the royal gazette on Wednesday.
Footage of the ceremony, which has since been broadcast on Thai television, shows her dressed in pink and lying prone at the feet of Vajiralongkorn, who sported a white military uniform. Tradition dictates that the king, a semi-divine figure, must sit elevated above his subjects during official functions.
Suthida, a 40-year-old former Thai Airways flight attendant, will now be crowned alongside her 66-year-old husband during the three days of coronation rituals set to begin on Saturday.
She has been a fixture in palace circles since 2014, when Vajiralongkorn appointed her deputy commander of his bodyguard unit, later elevating her rank to general and giving her a royal title.
She becomes the fourth wife of the thrice-divorced Vajiralongkorn, who also has seven children from his previous relationships.
Vajiralongkorn became the country's constitutional monarch in the fall of 2016, following the death of his revered father King Bhumibol Adulyadej at age 88, ending a 70-year reign. The ceremonies this weekend will officially enthrone Vajiralongkorn as Rama X, the tenth king of the ruling Chakri dynasty.
The elaborate festivities, which blend Hindu and Buddhist traditions, include a ritual bath and the new king's anointment with waters collected from more than 100 sources across the country. Vajiralongkorn will place the 7 kilogram gold-and-diamond crown upon his own head, and he will also be carried through the streets of Bangkok in a formal 6.5 km-long procession before his subjects.
The cost of the pageant, which will also be broadcast live on all the country's television stations, is estimated to be in excess of $30 million US.
Vajiralongkorn, the second of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit's four kids and their only son, remains something of a mystery man.
He was educated at private schools in the U.K., before attending military college in Australia. He later served as an officer in the Thai military, training as a fighter pilot, and he continues to fly his own 737 jet on his travels.
But his mother once described him as "a bit of a Don Juan." His former wives were his royal cousin, followed by a young actress and then one of her ladies-in-waiting, and he has been romantically linked to several other women.
There have been questions about his gambling and business links to underworld figures. And in recent years, he has spent much of his time living in a posh lakeside mansion near Munich, Germany.
Thailand's incredibly strict lèse majesté laws — even the mildest criticism of the royal family can result in a 15-year jail sentence — have kept his new subjects in the dark about the quirkier aspects of their new king's personality. Like the time he elevated his now deceased poodle Foo Foo to the rank of air marshal. Or the lavish shopping expeditions where Vajiralongkorn has been photographed wearing crop tops and showing off a raft of (possibly fake) tattoos.
Still, he is becoming an ever-more-powerful figure in Thailand.
His image is everywhere ahead the coronation — on stamps and the money, his portrait hangs from the side of buildings and decorates every state office, and a short film about his life is screened before every movie at theatres.
A royal "Volunteer Spirit" program reportedly boasts four million members — almost six per cent of the country's population — who dress in imperial yellow and preface their acts of public service, like directing traffic or cleaning streets, by saluting his picture.
His personal security unit is being quadrupled to a force of 1,600 hand-picked police.
And since last summer, Vajiralongkorn has had full personal ownership and control of as much as $40 billion US in crown assets, including major stakes in Thai banks and construction firms. (In exchange, the new king has promised to make his business dealings transparent and pay taxes for the first time.)
Thai kings have been officially politically neutral since the end of the country's absolute monarchy in 1932. But Vajiralongkorn has also shown signs that he might be willing to alter that stance.
Last winter, he moved decisively to quash his elder sister's bid to run as the prime ministerial candidate for a new party linked to Thaksin Shinawatra, the country's now-exiled former civilian leader.
Ubolratana Rajakanya renounced her royal status in 1972 when she married an American she met while studying at M.I.T., but her brother ruled her candidacy "extremely inappropriate," saying it defied the nation's traditions and culture.
Vajiralongkorn has also been forging ties to the military junta that has ruled Thailand since a 2014 coup. The current prime minister, Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, was one of the select few guests at his wedding this week.
The official results of the late March election, the first since the military takeover, have been delayed until after the coronation ceremonies. And it is believed that Vajiralongkorn has been playing a role in diffusing tensions between the impatient opposition and the generals.
Most Thais trust their royal family to guard the national interest.
The new queen, however, might want to keep a sharp eye on her husband. At the cremation ceremonies for King Bhumibol, Vajiralongkorn had another woman, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, his purported mistress, close by his side.
The 30-something is already a colonel in the palace guard, and may be due for a promotion.
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Issues tied to climate change could make for a stormy meeting between the prime minister and Alberta's new premier, The National co-host Rosemary Barton writes.
For a few weeks now we have done flooding stories on the show pretty much daily. And while they are now cleaning up in New Brunswick, they are still waiting for the water to peak here in the Nation's Capital.
The last major climate change report for this country came just a few weeks ago. It showed things are moving fast, and flooding like what we are seeing now in different parts of Canada is only expected to happen more often.
It's in this context that Alberta's new premier, Jason Kenney, sits down with the prime minister for their first face-to-face.
Kenney has used a lot of bluster to insist a new pipeline get built and that Alberta get what support it needs to survive.
Justin Trudeau would hardly be opposed to those ideas, but he also wants to fight climate change.
And that's where ideas may collide.
Kenney plans to ditch the carbon tax, so Trudeau will impose one on him.
Kenney is fed up waiting for the TMX pipeline expansion, while Trudeau is trying to respond to the federal court's prescription on how to have meaningful dialogue during consultations.
Kenney was just elected with a large majority, Trudeau is now less than six months from an election.
My colleague Aaron Wherry wrote smartly about how the climate change debate is viewed and is or is not likely to affect the federal election. You can read it here — consider it homework for At Issue tonight!
We will try to sort out where all of this leaves us — Chantal Hébert, Andrew Coyne and Andray Domise will be on At Issue this evening.
See you all then.
- Rosemary Barton
- WATCH: At Issue tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online
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Quote of the moment
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- Jason Kenney, Alberta's new premier, tells the Senate Energy Committee that proposed changes to federal environmental assessment rules are unfair to his province and that he will challenge them in court
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Today in history
May 2, 1986: A royal opening in Vancouver for Expo 86
The first of the 164 days of Vancouver's world fair was wet and cold,but filled with enthusiasm. And Charles and Diana were on hand to cut ribbons, collect flowers, and watch the RCMP Musical Ride for perhaps the 100th time. Imagine their excitement over the blimp, laser show and "video-wall," a bank of 108 linked TVs inside the Canada Pavilion.
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