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Crowds brave heat in Bangkok for first procession by the new king

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Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida perform a ritual during his coronation in Bangkok on Saturday. THAI ROYAL HOUSEHOLD BUREAU/AFP

Crowds brave heat in Bangkok for first procession by the new king

Crowds of Thais eager to witness history filled roads around the Grand Palace on Sunday waiting under a scorching sun for newly-crowned King Rama X to emerge on a golden palanquin for a procession through Bangkok’s historic heart.

Wearing yellow shirts – the royal colour – and carrying hats and umbrellas to protect against temperatures reaching 36 degrees Celsius, they inched through security checkpoints, many clutching portraits of the king.

“It may be my first and last chance to see this,” 57-year-old Nattriya Siripattana said of the first ceremony of its kind in 69 years.

“I’m afraid of the heat but it won’t stop me.”

The three-day coronation, which started on Saturday, is the first since Vajiralongkorn’s adored and revered father was crowned in 1950 and most Thais have never seen the elaborate show of pageantry and ritual.

The highlight of Saturday’s sombre ceremonies was the King’s anointment with holy water, before he placed the 7.3kg (16lbs) golden tiered crown on his head.

Early on Sunday, the king bestowed royal titles on family members who crawled to his throne in a striking show of deference to the newly-crowned monarch as he sat next to his new Queen Suthida.

Thailand’s monarchy is swaddled in ritual, protocol and hierarchy all orbiting around the king, who is viewed as a demigod.

Later on Sunday, Vajiralongkorn was to be carried from the palace by groups of soldiers in round gold helmets, flanked by others bearing umbrellas, beating drums and holding royal standards along a seven kilometre procession.

Thais will have the opportunity to “pay homage” to the king who will also stop at several major temples to pray before large gilded Buddha images.

On the ground, authorities sprayed mists of water over the crowds whose numbers were bolstered by droves of “Jit Arsa” – or “Spirit Volunteers” – intended to project a show of devotion and fealty to the monarchy.

Vajiralongkorn ascended the throne in 2016 after the death of his father Bhumibol Adulyadej.

So far the coronation has brought a few surprises, such as the investiture of Queen Suthida, whose unexpected marriage to Vajiralongkorn was announced only days before.

The king and queen stayed the night in the royal residence, where a Siamese cat and a white rooster were placed on a pillow as part of housewarming rituals intended to bring good tidings.

They moved to a throne hall on Sunday morning where the king in white uniform bestowed the royal titles, including on 14-year-old Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, who knelt and prostrated in front of his father as he was anointed with water.

The teenager is the king’s son from his third marriage. He has six other children, including four sons from two previous wives.

‘Focus on politics’

Criticism or in-depth discussion of the royal family in Thailand is guarded by harsh lese-majeste rules that carry up to 15 years in prison.

All media must self-censor and the country’s lively social media platforms have been subdued.

But the dazzling display of the primacy of the monarchy in Thai life belies a simmering political crisis held over from elections in March.

The junta that seized power in 2014 and has vowed to defend the monarchy is aiming to return to power through the ballot box.

Its proxy party has claimed the popular vote. But a coalition of anti-military parties says it has shored up a majority in the lower house.

Full results are not expected until May 9, a delay that has frustrated many Thais who cast votes almost two months earlier.

“When the event [coronation] is finished we will have to focus on politics,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, a lecturer at Ubon Ratchathani University.

“The Election Commission has failed to provide sufficient information about the election results.”

Though the royal family is nominally above politics, the king issued an election-eve message calling on Thais to vote for “good people” against those who create “chaos”.

And in February, he scuttled the prime ministerial bid of his older sister Princess Ubolratana with an anti-junta party.

Though present on the first day in which she took selfies and hugged the king, Ubolratana was not included in second-day ceremonies where royal ranks were bestowed.