Thai king takes control of five palace agencies

King Maha Vajiralongkorn is shielded from scrutiny by a draconian royal defamation law that punishes insulting the monarchy with years in jail

Thailand's new king was granted control over five state agencies that oversee royal affairs and security on Tuesday, the latest move by an increasingly assertive monarch to consolidate power.

The law detailing the transfers was not made public until it was published late Monday in the Royal Gazette, meaning junta-appointed lawmakers had voted on the bill in private.

That secrecy is in line with the trademark opacity of Thailand's monarchy, a powerful institution shielded by harsh defamation laws that have landed critics behind bars.

The five agencies transferred to King Maha Vajiralongkorn's control include two major administrative departments -- the Royal Household Bureau and the Office of His Majesty's Principal Private Secretary -- plus three palace security bodies.

All were previously under government or military control.

"(Their) work is different than other departments so it is suitable to set up new agencies under His Majesty's custody," the Royal Gazette said.

The latest move to claw back control of the palace bureaucracy caps a long-running effort to "reinvigorate" the monarchy, said Thailand-based academic David Streckfuss.

"This quite clearly demarcates a separation between the government and the institution in a way that Thailand has not seen since the end of absolute monarchy," he told AFP.

"On a symbolic level the institution of the monarchy is becoming more autonomous and virtually impossible for the public to scrutinise."

Vajiralongkorn, 64, ascended the throne after the death of his revered father Bhumibol Adulyadej in October.

It was the country's first royal succession in 70 years, stirring anxiety among powerbrokers about how a new monarch might restructure complex relations between the palace and figures in the military and government.

Thailand-based reporters are forced to self-censor when reporting on the monarchy to avoid falling foul of the royal defamation law.

While the king's formal powers were limited after absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932, the throne reclaimed much of its prestige and influence under Bhumibol's charismatic reign.

Vajiralongkorn has yet to attain his father's level of popularity.

Yet the new king has taken a number of assertive moves in recent months to expand his influence.

Earlier this year he ordered surprise changes to a junta-drafted constitution that had already been approved in a referendum.

The changes gave him control over the naming of a regent and kept open the possibility of a palace intervention in case of political deadlock.

Vajiralongkorn was also granted power last year to appoint the kingdom's top monk.

He has also sacked a number of powerful palace officials from his father's era, some of whom have been publicly accused of "evil deeds" and paraded in front of the press with their heads shaved.