What next?

5 05 2019

AP reports that its pundits reckon that after more than two years on the throne, “[w]hat Vajiralongkorn … will do with the power and influence the venerated status confers is still not clear.”

We don’t agree. It seems pretty clear that this king is a politically interventionist rightist, legalistic when it suits him, craving a return to pre-1932 absolutism, greedy and unpredictable. Perhaps it is the last characteristic that befuddles the pundits.

They do note his “assertiveness” but we are confused when they say he has a “seemingly hands off approach in other matters…”. The report says this has something to do with his long stints in Germany, but perhaps they have forgotten his demanded change to the constitution that gives him hands-on influence wherever he is.

The argument that he “suddenly announced his fourth marriage, to a former flight attendant who is a commander of his security detail, and appointed her Queen…” suggests a “fresh commitment to his royal duties” is nonsense. He’s been at his “royal duties” – as he sees them – since well before his father’s death. He’s been regularly intervening in the work of the junta. Even a humble office worker the report quotes knows this.

In any case, marrying just before coronation is exactly what his father did.

“Vajiralongkorn is likely to remain burdened by old gossip about his personal life that has dogged him” for decades. But the propaganda is gradually erasing this. And, the king doesn’t care any more. He’s powerful and can do whatever he wants.

The report quotes the usually critical academic Paul Chambers results in the odd claim that the hands-on Vajiralongkorn’s style is “more hands off” is a bizarre claim with the report going on to contradict this silliness saying “he has brought more of Thailand’s administration directly under the palace.” How’s that for hands off!!

It quotes old royalist and conservative Sulak Sivaraksa who is closer to the mark: “The new king is a very decisive man, and he’s a very daring man, unlike his father…”. Sulak loathed Vajiralongkorn’s father for he ‘suffered fools (gladly)’ around him…”.

His “decisive” new king is intolerant, erratic, headstrong and dangerous. Think of all the people he’s had jailed on bogus charges in recent years. He’s often done this, as academic Michael Montesano notes,”bespeak an interest in gaining or exerting greater control over certain institutions,” and he uses his power to grasp what he wants. Think of all the buildings and land he’s been accumulating.

As the report notes, the “powers he acquired centralize royal authority in his hands and make explicit his right to intervene in government affairs, especially in times of political crisis.”

He’s also been publicly interventionist in politics, even directing how people should vote in the recent election.

Vajiralongkorn also seems to have the support of the royal family – despite previous claims of splits and the problem he had with his big and equally balmy sister recently.

At the coronation, Princess Sirindhorn “represented the Royal Family … in offering their best wishes to … the King” and declared “every member of the Royal Family was determined to uphold the truth and promised loyalty to the King.” That’s to be expected as they all benefit from the monarchy and its wealth.

In other words, Chambers’ hands-off king is a facile myth.

Vajiralongkorn has also brought the palace’s billions under his personal control, rolling back these arrangements many decades.

The article reckons that “Vajiralongkorn’s greatest challenge is likely to be sorting out the palace’s relationship with the military.” He’s already moving on that, and the shape of the appointed senate is likely to be a pointer. He’s already secured an Army commander who will polish his posterior. Once he sees off Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, his relationship to the military will be highly personalized and interventionist. He believes he’s a soldier and that other soldiers must obey him.

Even Chambers and Montesano agree that the balance of power has and is shifting to the king and his palace.

Another academic once referred to a kingdom of fear and favor. That holds more now than when the claim was made. Watch as he grasps more for himself, in terms of political power, wealth and status.


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