Polygyny, king and despotism

24 04 2020

With the king hiding out from the virus with his harem, probably in Germany, abetted by Swiss and German authorities in bending isolation rules, a recent post by academic Tamara Loos is worth considering.

She wonders about “how Thailand’s current monarch, King Vajiralongkorn, values foreign media reporting on his reign.” We guess he reads it, becomes furious but understands he can get away with bad, cruel and arrogant behavior. After all, that’s been his life’s experience.

Loos notes that the Thai media is generally hopeless on reporting anything much about the eccentric and erratic monarch. And, social media is heavily policed in Thailand. She reminds readers that “[s]ome critics of the monarchy and junta have disappeared.” She says the “latest among them is the fallen Royal Consort, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, also known by her nickname Koi.”

We are sure that Sineenat was not a critic of the monarchy. Indeed, she was an insider who fell foul of the king’s cruelty and fickleness when it comes to women in the palace. His known former wives have all been subjects of nasty “divorces” with some of them publicly humiliated and disappearances in three cases.


Loos observes:

The criminalization of free speech within Thailand and pressure placed on Thais who live abroad (but who have loved ones in-country) to remain silent makes it a moral imperative for scholars and reporters outside Thailand to speak up, with humility and acknowledgment of their protected position.

While a historian of 19th century Siam, she sees King Vajiralongkorn’s revival of polygyny worthy of comment.

Leaving aside “quasi-lurid, orientalist fascination” she believes that “placing this event in the context of a series of moves taken by the king … reveals the sinister move for what it is: another step toward despotism.”

She writes of the personal control of the Crown Property Bureau, the forbidding of his elder sister’s 24 hour run for politics, his “active and direct part in politics, and the revival of royal polygyny. (Loos claims that this is “marital form long dead in Thailand” which we assume she means for the king, as so-called minor wives remain common.)

She writes of the rise and fall of Sineenat and of her still unexplained disappearance, probably to prison. She might have added that we know nothing of any legal cases against her meaning that the judiciary is complicit (again) in manufactured legalism that supports the powerful.

Most significantly, Loos observes that “we are witnessing a fundamental change in the relationship between the military and the monarch that does not bode well for democracy and civil society in Thailand.” She fears that an “army loyal to the monarch may end Thailand’s coup tradition in favor of a military that supports an absolutist king. No one will be able to counter his power.”

Loos concludes: “All of these moves … reveal King Vajiralongkorn’s ability to exercise unfettered power. He is above the law.”



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