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3 - A Soldier King

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 June 2023

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Summary

The public image of Rama X of the Chakri Dynasty, who reigns as Phrabat Somdet Maha Vajiralongkorn Phravajiraklaochaoyuhua, has been projected as that of a career military man, a brave soldier and, later, a skilled jet fighter pilot. When King Vajiralongkorn ascended the throne on 1 December 2016, local media depicted the new sovereign as a military monarch, suggesting that the position he held under the constitution was not simply that of a ceremonial top commander but rather that of the “actual head of the Thai armed forces with resonances of the US President as Commander-in-Chief.”

On the occasion of the king’s birthday in 2019, the year of his formal coronation, Thailand’s sole national English-language newspaper, the Bangkok Post, presented the new monarch’s military profile in its headline, “Head of State with the Heart of Gold; His Majesty the King has an Illustrious Military Background”:

When His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua ascended the throne, he became the head of state and the head of Royal Thai Armed Forces, as per the Constitution. Therefore, His Majesty the King gives precedence to royal missions which benefit Thailand and its people. He also gives various recommendations for the improvement and development of Thai troops.

One of the king’s trusted warlords, Army Commander-in-Chief General Apirat Kongsompong emphasized during a high-profile public lecture on 11 October 2019 that the monarchy had led the military in wars and battles throughout the nation’s history to protect the kingdom. King Vajiralongkorn had, when he was the crown prince, fought shoulder to shoulder with brave soldiers on the battlefield, the general said.

“The monarchy, military and people are inseparable. In the past, the king was on an elephant, surrounded by soldiers. Not only soldiers but also the people, men and women who volunteered and sacrificed in battle alongside the king to protect the land of the Thais”, Apirat said during the rare public lecture. This speech explained the role of the monarchy and its asymmetrical relations with the military. While he did refer to the people, the general defined them as self-sacrificing, loyal subjects under the military, which played the role of protector in the hierarchical polity.

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A Soldier King
Monarchy and Military in the Thailand of Rama X
, pp. 58 - 109
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2022

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