TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -From a distance, the volunteers cleaning up a clogged Bangkok waterway could be mistaken for Scouts, but the group, wearing yellow foulards and blue hats, are part of a volunteer program started by Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 66.
The “Volunteer Spirit” scheme, which officially began in 2017, has created a new army of civilians who have pledged allegiance to the king and are boosting the image of Vajiralongkorn ahead of his formal coronation at year-end.
Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was revered by Thais during his seven decades on the throne and the deep relationship between the monarchy and the military helped facilitate a smooth royal transition following his death in October 2016.
Since then, the new king has brought about a major shake-up of royal affairs, and some observers have said he may be seeking to distance himself from the military, which has been in power in Thailand since a 2014 coup.
Last year, Vajiralongkorn demanded unprecedented changes to a constitutional draft endorsed by the military government. He has also taken back control of royal assets formally managed by the government.
David Streckfuss, a Thailand-based independent scholar said he saw the volunteer program as an attempt by the king to create a separate power base.
“If the monarchy is ... to distinguish itself from the military and attempt to bring Thailand into a democratic constitutional monarchy, then we might look at this effort by the new monarch as creating an alternative power base,” Streckfuss told Reuters.
The palace declined comment.
Vajiralongkorn however is thought to have a good working relationship with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who came to power following the 2014 coup.