Yingluck Shinawatra

Thai king celebrates 64-year reign as prime minister Yingluck awaits fate

Rare appearance by monarch as troubled nation faces critical weeks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 1:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 May, 2014, 5:19pm

Watch: King makes rare appearance as Thailand enters crucial period

Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej made a rare public appearance yesterday to mark the 64th anniversary of his coronation, as the political turmoil gripping his kingdom enters a critical phase.

The king's appearance comes as embattled prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra faces two key legal challenges which could see her removed from office over the coming days, while opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva refused at the weekend to commit to elections slated for July to end the political crisis.

The streets near his coastal palace were a sea of yellow as thousands of people, wearing the king's signature colour, waved flags and shouted "long live the king" while the monarch's vehicle passed through the central coastal town of Hua Hin, where he has lived since leaving a Bangkok hospital last August.

A short service was held in a room in the royal palace packed with Thailand's political and military establishment, many clad in white official uniforms, and senior members of the royal family including the heir Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Monks led a short prayer as the 86-year-old king, who has suffered ill health for several years and uses a wheelchair, looked on.

Yingluck was also present. She has faced six months of protests demanding she step down, during which at least 25 people have died and fears raised of wider violence between pro-government and anti-government demonstrators.

She is due to appear before judges at the Constitutional Court on Tuesday to fight an allegation of abuse of power over the transfer of a top security official. She could also be charged with neglect of duty by Thai anti-graft officials over a bungled and costly rice subsidy policy which could see her banned from politics.

It is not clear when either ruling will be made, but they are expected sometime in the next 10 days.

"This is a critical few weeks for the future of Thailand," Noppadon Pattama, formerly the foreign minister, said on Sunday.

"If the [constitutional] court judgment is fair it could unblock the political conflict... If it is not fair, it will make things worse."

Bhumibol, the world's longest-reigning monarch and a father figure for Thais, was crowned on May 5 1950, although he came to the throne in June 1946 following the death of his elder brother.

The 86-year-old monarch is seen as a moral authority in Thailand, which has been deeply divided along political lines since 2006 when billionaire former premier Thaksin Shinawatra — Yingluck's older brother — was ousted in a military coup.

Bhumibol's speeches are closely scrutinised especially in times of political crisis, but he did not speak yesterday.

Thailand's political schism roughly pits the Bangkok elite and middle class, as well as staunchly royalist southerners, against Shinawatra's rural electoral base in the northern portion of the country and many among the urban poor.