On Vajiralongkorn

12 04 2017

It is six months since the late king passed and just over four months since the then crown prince acceded the throne. The first of the assessments are appearing on “the reign so far.”

One of these is by Claudio Sopranzetti at Al Jazeera. It may soon be blocked in Thailand.

Essentially, Sopranzetti makes an argument that Vajiralongkorn is a nasty piece of work seeking to ensconce himself and his privilege in ways that are different from the manner in which his father operated. His father was a networker while Vajiralongkorn is a thug.

This is not the potentially “democratic” king envisaged by another observer.

One might think that succession to a throne would see changes made to the royal household. Indeed, there have been such changes in the Thai royal household, but these have been completed in nasty, even vengeful ways.

That Vajiralongkorn is vengeful, thuggish and nasty should not come as a shock to anyone who has watched the royal family over the years. Those characteristics, along with his womanizing and his need for money, defined his life as crown prince. He’s also considered himself a military man, and the “military discipline” he seems to have imposed in the palace matches the vile treatment of recruit to the military.

That members of the elite now fear the erratic new king is to be expected, and if it is only now that they are making hasty contingency plans, then they can only blame themselves for not fully believing the stories they all knew to be true.

Perhaps the most interesting issue is how interventionist King Vajiralongkorn is going to be.

Sopranzetti gets a few things wrong. The lese majeste law was not introduced in 1957; Vajiralongkorn did not spend most of his adult life overseas (depends a bit on the definition of “adult”); he’s wrong that “changes provide the King with complete control over the appointment of a regent in his absence” for the king has long had this control and had it under the earlier version of the new constitution under Article 16. What he has now is the capacity to not appoint a regent when he’s overseas. He’s also wrong to reproduce bits and pieces of palace propaganda as fact.

He is right to say that with the “new constitution Vajiralongkorn will wield more power over the parliament than his father ever did.” However, no one should conclude that the previous reign was not highly interventionist. The previous king was forever meddling, sometimes on his own and often through trusted intermediaries. His relationship with particular military leaders meant that his view always counted.

What is in doubt is exactly how King Vajiralongkorn will intervene. So far, he seems intent on maintaining royal powers. His intervention on the constitution essentially rolled back changes that sought to deal with the end of the last reign and the political fallout from interventionism.

The new king sees no reason for the changes, so it is probably reasonable to assume that his future interventions will be erratic and nasty.


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18 04 2017
Fear and unintended consequences I | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] a New Mandala op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun on fear in the new reign. Earlier we mentioned an op-ed by Claudio Sopranzetti also writing of […]

18 04 2017
Fear and unintended consequences I | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] a New Mandala op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun on fear in the new reign. Earlier we mentioned an op-ed by Claudio Sopranzetti also writing of […]