Playboy prince, fearsome king

25 01 2020

Readers may be interested in Richard Bernstein’s piece with Vox, “Thailand’s playboy king isn’t playing around.”

PPT finds some of the underlying assumptions a bit too accepting of elite propaganda:


With King Bhumibol Adulyadej old and ailing, many worried the Thai monarchy would atrophy into irrelevance once his playboy son [Vajiralongkorn] ascended to the throne. And given its importance as a pillar of Thai nationhood and identity, that could be disastrous in a country already prone to deep divisions and political turmoil.

This ignores the fact that Vajiralongkorn was preparing for the throne for all those years that the old king was ailing. But, anyway, as the author says, “… things have decidedly not worked out that way.”

As Bernstein notes, the outcome of succession – so far- is that “… Vajiralongkorn has rapidly amassed power.” That’s legal, economic and political power. On the economic side, suggesting that the royal wealth is $43 billion seems a significant underestimate to us.

The article lists several of the ways in which this transition to an even more powerful king has taken place in a relatively short time.

Through all of this, Vajiralongkorn has behaved badly, just as he has throughout his adult life:

Vajiralongkorn gets away with things that would have ruined his predecessors, [and]… involves an intentional display of royal power, a signal that the rules that apply to everybody else don’t apply to him.

Fear is palpable when it comes to Vajiralongkorn:

Royal Household Bureau via Khaosod

It’s clear that nobody wants to be heard saying anything negative or derogatory about Vajiralongkorn. Thailand is a country where there can be lively conversations about all sorts of topics….

But there’s almost no discussion of the king’s grasping, his horrid treatment of his women, his militarization of the monarchy, his manipulation of the law or anything else. Political critics worry that they may end up in jail or floating in a river, murdered and disemboweled. It may be that lese majeste is no longer used the way it was under the military junta, but the beatings, deaths and disappearances are a potent warning of the lawless power wielded by and for the monarch.

Bernstein writes of the seldom-discussed “massive building campaign in the central Dusit district of Bangkok.” This area is now essentially a “royal compound”:

It’s an immense rectangle, surrounded by newly renovated walls surmounted by the yellow flag of the monarchy. Soldiers patrol the sidewalks alongside. Construction cranes loom over the ramparts. In one area, a row of large buildings that once housed senior members of the palace staff are empty and decaying, reportedly awaiting demolition.

The gates to the old zoo are locked shut. A glimpse into the old race track revealed a bunch of construction sheds….

“It’s all a way of making his power formal, visible,” one person whispered to me. “He wants everybody to see, whether it’s taking back the land that the zoo is on or assuming direct control of military regiments. And nobody can or dares to stop him.”

The king and the junta’s years in power eliminated opposition to such grandiose designs and little is whispered about the vast (mis-)use of public funds for aggrandizing a monarch whose every action projects a desire for re-feudalization and absolutism. He cultivates:

an image of sternness, command, and Olympian distance from ordinary people. If there were people hoping somehow that, being a Western-educated, cosmopolitan person living mostly in the West, he would encourage a move back in the direction of liberal values and practices, they have by now been disappointed.

We have no idea how anyone could have thought that the obsessive-compulsive Vajiralongkorn was ever going to be anything other than a military man, a thug and greedy wasn’t watching him as he “matured.”



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