Talk of a republic

20 12 2020

We thought readers might be interested in a recent Financial Times story on rising republicanism in Spain.

The story – behind a paywall – begins:

A day after Juan Carlos I announced his abdication as King of Spain in June 2014, Alberto Garzón, now a minister in the country’s government, published a book whose title was its goal: The Third Republic. A follow-up was called Why I am a Communist.

Today, the consumer affairs minister for Spain says that attempts by the former monarch to settle affairs with the tax authorities are proof of corruption. He argues that a republic is essential for democracy and transparency, and warns that former military officers are plotting against the elected government.

“During Juan Carlos’s reign a series of acts of corruption took place, which today are proven and recognised as such,” Mr Garzón said. “We have to be very clear, this happened because the institutions did not work as a firewall, because the monarchy in our country is not held accountable.”

Mr Garzón is perhaps the most vocal republican to have occupied a post in Spain’s government since the civil war over 80 years ago. One of the first communist ministers since that era — the other is also in government — he calls King Felipe VI, Juan Carlos’s son, “Citizen Borbón”, a reference to the family name of Spain’s reigning House of Bourbon.

For Thais and Thailand watchers, there are five related things to notice here: (1) the call for a republic does not give rise to dozens of lese majeste charges; (2) a government minister is making the call; (3) that minister is a Communist – in other words, communism is not dead – with Garzón being a member of the Communist Party of Spain and United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU) since 2003; (4) in Spain, communists participate in electoral politics marking their communism out from, say Chinese communism, which is statist and repressive; and (5) Garzón  is in a minority, but his voice is still heard.

That said, aged, diehard, Falangists and other far rightists and conservatives did earlier call for “Garzón’s dismissal for his ‘disloyalty’ to the monarchy.”

But Juan Carlos’s flight to exile in Abu Dhabi and his efforts to settle a tax bill on alleged “kickbacks over a €7bn high-speed train project in Saudi Arabia awarded to a Spanish consortium in 2011” and an investigation of his 2012 “gift” of €65 million to a lover (consort?) from “funds that originated in a present of $100m from the late king Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2008” seem to have silenced all but the maddest of monarchists.

Imagine the scandals and the amounts of filched taxpayer funds that would be identified if Thailand’s monarchy and its hidden secrets and the state’s abetting of them were ever to be investigated.

It is reported that “Javier Sánchez-Junco, Juan Carlos’s lawyer, revealed last week that the ex-king had paid €678,393.72 to clear his tax debt. The public prosecutor’s office has yet to close the file, however, warning that it was evaluating the ‘spontaneity, veracity and completeness’ of the king’s tax declaration ‘in the context of a broader investigation’.”

Can Thais imagine the state investigating Vajiralongkorn’s tax affairs? Does he have tax affairs? We recall that for decades, the taxpayer funds poured into the monarchy that semi-secretly appeared in budget papers were never subject to scrutiny in parliament.

Garzón  explains why republicanism matters: “For me, republicanism means modernisation … a democratic, accountable country where all of us, all of Spain’s nationalities, fit in.”

The far right is not a spent force in Spain:

the monarchy has become a potent symbol to elements of the Spanish right, outraged at ministers such as Mr Garzón and at the minority coalition’s dependence on votes from separatist Basque and Catalan parties. Dozens of retired military officers have written to Felipe VI attacking the “social-communist government”. Some also joined a WhatsApp group that referred to coups and to “shooting 26m bastards”.

Thailand’s far right and mad monarchists make similar claims but from a stronger political and institutional position. The rightist military has long demonstrated that it is prepared to “shoot … bastards,” meaning those it sees as democratic, republican, anti-monarchist or different in other ways.

Garzón makes a point resonant of Thailand:  “We [should not] underestimate the danger represented by the penetration of these reactionary elements of institutions as important as the armed forces…”. In Thailand, a much longer list of institutions needs to be added. This is what makes reform so difficult in Thailand.





The king and his antics II

11 09 2020

Thailand’s king and his antics in Europe have attracted plenty of unfavorable comment, The most recent is from The Statesman. While we think that most of PPT’s readers will know all of the facts and antics recounted, we consider the article by Francis Pike, with our added illustrations, worth reproducing in full:

The depraved rule of Thailand’s Caligula king
Protestors are risking it all to take on the monarchy

Fu Fu

The Roman emperor Caligula was renowned for his extravagance, capricious cruelty, sexual deviancy and temper bordering on insanity. Most famously, before he was assassinated, he planned to appoint his favourite horse as a consul. This is probably a legend. But King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the Thai throne in 2016, adopted Caligula’s playbook for real. In 2009 the then crown prince promoted his pet miniature poodle Foo Foo to the post of air chief marshal, in which capacity he served until his death in 2015, aged 17. Foo Foo’s cremation was preceded by four days of formal Buddhist mourning.

The poodle first came to the attention of the general public when a video was released showing him eating cake from the hand of Vajiralongkorn’s third wife, Princess Srirasmi, while she cavorted in a G-string at the dog’s lavish birthday party. At a 2009 gala dinner in honour of Vajiralongkorn, Foo Foo was kitted out head to paw in black-tie dress and, according to a WikiLeaks-revealed account by US ambassador, Ralph Boyce, ‘jumped onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own’.

When on parade the new king wears crisp, snowy-white, gold-braided, Ruritanian military uniforms or elaborate Thai regalia that make him look like a Buddhist temple in human form. In downtime his dress code can at best be described as kinky: trainers and low-hung jeans paired with the skimpiest of crop tops. His back and arms are festooned with possibly fake tattoos.

Vajiralongkorn is famously lecherous. Indeed, in his youth, Thai aristocrats would pack off their daughters to Europe to get them out of his clutches. Happily for Bangkok’s elite, the crown prince’s tastes, after his divorce from his first wife, an aristocratic relative of his mother, were consistently low-rent. His second wife was an aspiring actress, albeit of the soft-porn variety.

Prince, and kids in earlier times

The marriage did not last. After Vajiralongkorn put posters all over the palace accusing her of adultery, she fled to London and later to the US with her children — apart from a daughter who was kidnapped and brought back to Bangkok. The daughter was elevated to the rank of princess, but her mother and brothers had their diplomatic passports and royal titles revoked by the crown prince. The Thai public was left horrified by his treatment of his family.

Another marriage followed in 2001, to the aforementioned Srirasmi, though it was not publicly announced until 2005 when the crown prince, by then in his early fifties, declared it was time to settle down. How-ever, in 2014 he stripped his wife of her royal titles because of her relatives’ corruption. Srirasmi’s parents were jailed for two and a half years each for lèse-majesté.

Sineenat

Five years later, on 1 May last year, and just three days before his official coronation, Vajiralongkorn married for the fourth time, to Suthida Tidjai, a former Thai Airways hostess, giving her the title of Queen Consort. The Thai people were dumbfounded when just two months later, the new king named his mistress, Major General Sineenat Wongvajira-pakdi, as his Royal Noble Consort; it was the first time this form of address had been used for more than 100 years. The new relationship lasted three months. On 21 October, Sineenat was stripped of all her titles and disappeared from public view, supposedly for being disrespectful to the queen.

The king’s extravagance is no less remarkable than his private life. A monarchy that was impoverished in the postwar period had, by some estimates, increased its wealth to between $40 billion and $60 billion by last year. Most of the wealth resides in land; ownership of some four square miles of central Bangkok makes the Thai monarchy the world’s wealthiest by a large margin. Overseas holdings include a major stake in the Kempinski hotel group.* Indeed, for years Vajiralongkorn has spent months on end at the Munich Kempinski with his harem and servants. In addition, he owns a mansion on Lake Starnberg to the southwest of Munich. In spite of his huge allowances as crown prince, affording him ownership of two Boeing 737s, it is thought that he had to resort to begging funds from the then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to cover his gambling debts.

Why do King Vajiralongkorn’s private shenanigans matter? Royal families throughout Europe have long weathered sexual and financial scandals. Juan Carlos may have had to step down as king and go into exile, but the Spanish monarchy has survived. So too has the Belgian monarchy after the former King Albert II admitted to a love child. There is no suggestion that Prince Andrew, cherubic by comparison with King Vajiralongkorn, will bring down the British royals because of the Epstein imbroglio. But the key difference is that, unlike Thailand, all those are constitutional monarchies.

Bhumibol and Ananda

In Thailand the monarchy is integral to the country’s real power structures. This was a 70-year legacy of Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Bhumibol’s reign started under a cloud following the killing of his 20-year-old predecessor, King Ananda Mahidol, by a single shot to the head with a Colt .45 pistol. After a questionable trial two servants were executed for the murder, though it is widely suspected that the king was accidently shot by Bhumibol, his brother. For the first decade of his rule King Bhumibol was entirely powerless and lived under the rule of the quasi-dictator Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, who, during the second world war, had allied Thailand with the Axis powers.

Bhumibol, Sirikit, Prem

But gradually, as Thailand inched towards a democracy, Bhumibol won the adoration of the Thai people thanks to his moderating influence and good works, such as paying for medical facilities for the poor. His political power increased. In 1952 he bravely refused to preside over ceremonies for Phibunsongkhram’s new militaristic constitution.** However, Bhumibol’s finest moment came in 1981 when he faced down the ‘April Fools’ Day’ coup d’état by fleeing Bangkok and raising the Thai royal standard at the military base at Khorat, where General Prem emerged as the new military strongman. There followed what is now known as the ‘Network Monarchy’ era, a coalition of military interests and those of the financial and industrial elite based in Bangkok. As a former American deputy-president at Thailand’s Bank of Asia noted: ‘Thai politics has been about dividing up the pie among the elite.’ At the centre of the web stood the Thai monarchy. Elected democratic institutions remained largely an adornment to this oligarchic structure.

In 2001 a business chancer and mobile phone billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra, later the owner of Manchester City FC, swept to power with his Thai Rak Thai party promising a populist agenda including reform of health and education. Much to the chagrin of the ‘Network Monarchy’, Thaksin won a sweeping electoral victory again in 2005. Bhumibol, who loathed Thaksin, gave tacit support to the coup that first removed him and then sent him into exile two years later. Until his death in 2016, Bhumibol thwarted, either by military or judicial coup, the democratic will of the Thai people, who since 2001 have consistently voted into power Thaksin-backed parties and their proxy leaders. Bhumibol’s historic reputation, albeit tarnished by his thwarting of the democratic will, became an important pillar of resistance to Thaksin’s outsiders. After Bhumibol’s death in 2016, the critical power of the monarchy was left in the hands of his dissolute playboy son.

Will King Vajiralongkorn redeem his dire youthful reputation and do a ‘Prince Hal’, moving to the path of royal righteousness? The signs so far are not good. Just over a week ago, the Royal Noble Consort Sineenat suddenly re-emerged with no information other than an inventive Royal Gazette announcement that ‘It will be regarded that she was never stripped of the royal consort title, military ranks and royal decorations’.

More important than this saga of extra-judicial fiat, the king intervened in the drafting of a new constitution by the military junta in 2017 to grant himself new powers over the appointment of regents. In addition, the new constitution asserted the king’s rights to ‘manage’ during any constitutional crisis. Given that Thailand has had 17 military coups since 1932, this is not trivial. Two crack regiments have also been put under his direct control. As the political exile and professor at Kyoto University Pavin Chachavalpongpun has noted, the king ‘is basically running the country now, though he’s not doing that like his father did through moral authority. He’s using fear to solidify his position and to take command.’

It is therefore interesting that in the past month, demonstrations of up to 10,000 people have called for the powers of the king to be curtailed. Protestors have defied Thailand’s draconian lèse-majesté laws — which can incur up to 15 years’ imprisonment — to chant ‘Down with feudalism’. It remains to be seen whether the protests are a straw in the wind of future political instability. The new king’s attempt to transition from a monarch with influence within the ‘Network Monarchy’ to a monarch who rules is fraught with danger. But at least Vajiralongkorn is unlikely to come to Caligula’s sticky end; the king has a ready-made home for an exile in his beloved Bavaria.

*For discussions that reflect changes in ownership, see here and here.

**The refusal to attend was a fit of pique and self-interest.





Further updated: Unthinkable in Thailand?

4 08 2020

News reports of Spain’s “king emeritus” Juan Carlos fleeing the country just “weeks after he was linked to an inquiry into alleged corruption” would be impossible in Thailand where the monarchy is above the law.

Reading this news reminded us of an article that compared Juan Carlos and Bhumibol.

This humiliating exit comes after “shocking allegations of corruption and money laundering against former Spanish King Juan Carlos have cast doubt over the very future of the monarchy, under his son King Felipe.” It also followed Juan Carlos’ abdication “in response to rumours about his scandalous personal life in 2014…”.

The current investigations date back a couple of years and relate to “a $100m (£80m) gift to Juan Carlos from the king of Saudi Arabia in 2008…” and offshore bank accounts.

That reminded us of King Prajadhipok, who left Thailand and abdicated from Britain after he was investigated for irregularities in the use of crown property/state property.

With King Vajiralongkorn above the law, and with the media muzzled, it is almost impossible for him to be in the same situation in Thailand. In any case, he already lives overseas. But the idea of holding him responsible for enforced disappearances, deaths in custody and more is surely not unthinkable.

Update 1: It is not unthinkable, now, to criticize the monarch. Reuters reports that:

Speakers at a Thai anti-government protest demanded reforms to the monarchy of King … Vajiralongkorn on Monday (Aug 3), calling for its powers to be curbed in unusually frank public comments…. Police did not stop the six speakers, but said that any suspected offences would be investigated.

The report continued:

Lawyer Anon Nampa, 34, accused the palace of taking on increasing powers that undermined democracy and of inaction in the face of attacks on opponents of the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader.

After the king took the throne in 2016, the palace required revisions to a new constitution that gave him greater emergency powers. He has since taken personal control over some army units and palace assets worth tens of billions of dollars.

This was followed by student groups making demands that began with: “Cancelling and reforming the laws that expand the power of the monarch and that could impinge on democracy where the king is the head of state.”

Arnon explained that “”Talking about this is not an act to topple the monarchy, but to allow the monarchy to exist in Thai society in the right way and legitimately under a democratic and a constitutional monarchy…”.

To be honest, we don’t think there’s much chance of this. We think the lessons of the past and the current monarch’s personality and “understanding” of the throne’s position make this impossible.

As the Bangkok Post headlined recently, channeling PPT from more than a decade ago, “A country for old men no longer

Update 2: The Nation has a very useful report on the demonstrations in Bangkok that were called “Harry Potter versus You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” Well worth a read.





Not in Thailand

1 07 2014

The international media has given considerable attention to the charges that Princess Cristina, the sister of the new King Felipe of Spain faces. A judge “has formalised charges … in a tax fraud and money laundering case.”

The “49-year-old princess could now face trial, and if found guilty she could face up to 11 years in prison.” This comes just six days after Felipe came to the throne, and must be a huge embarrassment for the king who displaced his father who had become widely unpopular.

The investigating judge claimed the princess had been hiding material from the court. Her “allegedly fraudulent activities have caused huge damage to the popularity of the royal family.”

Of course, none of this could ever happen in Thailand. Indeed, anyone who made a fraud allegation against any Thai royal they would likely find themselves in jail or worse. The Thai monarchy does not understand the meaning of transparency. They are above the law, and several of them undoubtedly use this to their advantage.





King abdicates

3 06 2014

It’s Spain. King Juan Carlos, after what The Guardian calls “falling popularity and bungling,” has said that he is to abdicate an hand over to his son. PPT has had several posts on the rapid decline of the old king.

The announcement saw tens of thousands take part in street protests calling for referendum on the future of Spain’s monarchy. The report states there were rallies in some 60 Spanish cities. In addition, it says:

Police estimated that more than 20,000 people descended on Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square, and thousands more on Barcelona’s Catalunya square. Solidarity rallies were also held in 30 cities across Europe and Latin America.

It is further added that:

Once one of the world’s most popular monarchs, the reign of Juan Carlos has been plagued by a series of recent scandals that have sent his popularity plummeting. A poll by El Mundo last year found that nearly two-thirds of Spaniards thought the King should abdicate.

Another one bites the dust? Here’s hoping.





Princess to go to court

5 04 2013

The idea of a member of the royal family appearing in court is unusual, anywhere. We can only recall one such attempt in Thailand, back in 1933, as described in Kasian Tejapira’s Commodifying Marxism: The Formation of Modern Thai Radical Culture, 1927-1958:

Thawatt

That case is also briefly mentioned in this set of documents (clicking opens a largish PDF) as a case involving the alleged libel of Pridi Phanomyong by the then king.

So it is that a report at The Guardian is of interest for it covers a corruption case and the involvement of King Juan Carlos’ daughter, Princess Cristina, who is now “formally named as a suspect in a court investigation.” This case is interesting for Spain maintains a lese majeste law and has notions of inviolability as well.

The report states that this “dramatic decision by investigating magistrate José Castro will see the princess called to give evidence at a courthouse in Palma de Mallorca, capital of the Balearic Isles, on 27 April.” It adds that the “decision is a blow for King Juan Carlos, as a once model royal family begins to buckle under the weight of public scandal.” The case revolves around alleged special deals by her husband and the access and apparent impunity his royal connection provided.

Left and republican parliamentarians have “welcomed the decision to make the princess – who will visit the court on a Saturday so that special security measures can be set up – declare before the investigating magistrate.”

 





Royal on trial

24 02 2013

A report at the IHT blog might be of interest to readers. It is about a case that has a son-in-law of Spain’s King Juan Carlos being tried on a massive corruption case. While the report is complaining that the Spanish government is trying to protect the royal, the idea of a royal being dragged into court in Thailand is pretty much unthinkable. One “social protections” enjoyed by the monarchy in Thailand is an uncanny ability to be beyond the reach of the law. Some of this is “constitutional” as in the statement on the king being above the law, some is “legal” as in the use of the lese majeste law, but most is a “social protection” that grows from vast economic and political power and the fear this produces. Some quotes from the IHT story:

In the post-modern world of the Spanish monarchy, a picture is worth a mighty kingdom.

… Iñaki Urdangarin, the Duke of Palma … is being questioned in private by an investigating judge with a couple of dozen lawyers present, extraordinary measures have been prepared to prevent leaks of photographs.

National police will be posted next door to the courtroom, and a device will be used to jam wireless Internet services and mobile telephones — preventing untoward leaks. Even the lawyers will have to turn over their mobile phones, cameras and recorders. Laptops and and tablet computers will be permitted with documents on the case — though lawyers have been warned against turning their iPads into cameras or recorders.

A great part of the security process seems designed to prevent the publication of a bleak image of a royal in the court dock….





Comparing kings

7 11 2012

Readers will certainly be interested in a new paper published at the open-access Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs. Serhat Ünaldi has an article entitled “Modern Monarchs and Democracy: Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej and Juan Carlos of Spain,” which can be downloaded as a PDF. The abstract says:

The history of democracy is typically a history of struggle against monarchs and other such autocrats. The elevation of one person over others by virtue of blood and birth has come to be seen as anachronistic; yet some monarchies have managed to survive to this day. This paper analyses two examples of the uneasy coalition between popular sovereignty and royal leadership that is constitutional monarchy. Whereas Juan Carlos of Spain has been described as having steered Spain away from dictatorship, Bhumibol of Thailand has come under scrutiny for allegedly lacking a principled approach to democracy. I argue that structural as much as personal factors influenced the ways in which the two monarchies were legitimised – one by positively responding to the modern aspirations of the king’s subjects, giving him a “forward legitimacy,” the other by revitalising the king’s traditional charisma and opting for “backward legitimacy.”





Monarchies in comparison

27 08 2012

Personal or public?

Readers may recall that back in April this year, PPT posted regarding the scandal facing the Spanish king at that time and some of the historical coincidences that haunted the Spanish and Thai kings. At the Council on Foreign Relations blog, Joshua Kurlantzick has a post with a contemporary comparison.

Referring to a Washington Post article of a few days ago, Kurlantzick writes of how European austerity programs are impacting the monarchies there. Kurlantzick reminds readers of the criticism of the Spanish king, Juan Carlos, for his 19th Century and colonial-like penchant for shooting wild animals in Africa (see PPT’s earlier post). That criticism “led to a major backlash against the monarch.” The blog article states that that event has seen calls for “Juan Carlos to drastically cut his annual spending and to be much more transparent about how he is spending money on royal activities.”

While the well-funded and seemingly well-fueled escapes of the youngest British prince/playboy in Las Vegas may suggest that the austerities are not cutting too deep for some, the calls for greater transparency for the more controversial and big spending and well-connected royals has been growing, while establishment figures and self-serving royalists seek to protect the extravagant royals.

Kurlantzick then turns to Thailand:

Though it may be able to hold off such inquiries for now, via harsh lèse-majesté laws and the genuine reverence the monarchy enjoys, the Thai monarchy could learn some lessons from Juan Carlos. Like the Spanish king, the current Thai king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has truly earned a high degree of respect from many Thais over the course of his lengthy reign. But that respect, and the fact that the king’s reign is strongly supported by a core of arch-royalists in Bangkok, does not mean that questions are not increasingly being raised, in private, about the royal family’s finances.

Kurlantzick’s view of “respect” is couched in terms that don’t obliterate history in the way that several news agencies have long done, and the point he makes about transparency for royal finances is an important one. While he believes that “royals seem to understand this [need] in Thailand,”we are not so sure the royals are in any way keen on opening up about health, wealth or much else.

His evidence for feeling that the Thai royals have been given a message is the “recent, royally-approved biography of the king’s life” that he says “contained significantly more information on the Crown Property Bureau “than any royally-approved book had in the past.” That’s true, but it is a bit of closing the gate after the horse has bolted given the high profile of an academic account (get it here) and the related Forbes story of the CPB. Essentially, the book is a royalist and palace attempt to steer the public account of the monarchy, post-Handley (and his The King Never Smiles).

Kurlantzick believes that as the average Thai knows something about the monarchy’s wealth, that knowledge “only fuels a hunger for more —though Thais will not say so in public. On social media sites, and in private conversations, discussion of the Crown Property Bureau now is far more common than in the past.”

Juan Carlos has apparently “announced he would be taking a pay cut voluntarily, according to the Washington Post story, in tune with the austere times.” Kurlantzick asks if that isn’t a “model for other monarchs?” Probably not, for as the palace and those responsible for the recent biography points out, this king is unlike any other…. and other such concoctions that serve “protect” and conceal.

Much that contributes to the wealth and power of the Thai monarchy remains missing from public view. See sets of PPT posts on this here and here.

As a most basic of examples, it remains unclear – make that opaque – how much taxpayer money goes to support the royal family, its activities, projects and personal spending. Efforts have been made to cull information from Budget Bureau papers, but there is no clarity and a myriad of government agencies pour funds into the support of the royals, with no accounting or public accountability (as one small example, think of royal cars). No minister or politician dares  raise questions about royal funding in parliament, which is meant to be one site of scrutiny over the expenditure of public monies; many of these people assist in what amount to cover ups. Senior bureaucrats regularly come out with dopey letters denying royal wealth.

Transparency remains pretty much off the agenda and accountability is a term that is unlikely to be used in the same breathe as monarchy.





Monarchies in perspective

19 04 2012

We are sure that many readers will have noted the recent reports regarding then honorary president of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund, King Juan Carlos of Spain fell over and injured himself while on an elephant shoot in Botswana.

At Digital Journal it is stated that WWF is supposedly an international environmental organization that advocates, amongst other things, the protection of the African elephant. That their honorary president was blasting away at elephants on safari, got some attention, and the king quickly resigned his position.

The same report says that this hunting mishap is no surprise as the king “has been hunting all of his life, it is hardly a secret. In fact in 2006, it emerged the Royal had allegedly shot a domestic bear fed honey-laced vodka, to slow its reactions during a hunting trip in Russia.”

But there is much more to this story, with some remarkable links to Thailand, both in terms of similarities and differences. We thanks the regular reader who sent us in search of this material.

On the basic story, while there are now hundreds of articles available, the one at the Christian Science Monitor is a reasonable place to begin.

The story tells us that in “the first public apology by a Spanish monarch in history,” King Juan Carlos apologized for “taking a lavish hunting vacation amid sharp austerity cuts” at home. His apology amounted to 11 words.

Obviously, royals in many places live in the lap of luxury and ideas about austerity seem far removed from their lives, even if they do occasionally speak of the need for others to be more careful (as in Spain) or to make do (as in Thailand). They still enjoy their wealth, supplemented by public funds.

In the case of the safari for Juan Carlos, apparently he was being feted by a wealthy Saudi Arabian businessman. The pictures of the king posing with a dead elephant are everywhere (see below).

In Spain, there have been a series of recent scandals that are said to “have tested popular faith in the monarchy, seen as a unifier in post-Franco Spain.” That too sounds a bit like the “eye-opening” events seen in Thailand in recent years, from political meddling and coup plotting to lavish spending and locking people up for “insulting” the monarchy.

The royal apology only came after “several days of intense public pressure,” something unimaginable in Thailand because of the draconian lese majeste law.

At least Spain doesn’t regularly use such a draconian law to suppress commentary, even though it continues to exist there:

The uproar triggered extremely rare criticism that mushroomed quickly, from discreet comments by political leaders to popular chatter on Twitter and condemnation on talk shows. Several politicians openly called for his the king’s abdication – a demand not made in nearly a century, and one that is rocking the pillars of an already shaky establishment.

Not in Thailand…. Lese majeste does have a function in suppressing this kind of criticism.

Like the king in Thailand, “King Juan Carlos is much more than a figurehead monarch. He is credited with being a unifying presence in Spain and is, to most, a guarantor of Spanish national identity.” Very familiar royalist nonsense seen in most places where this political anachronism persists against the tide of history.

Royalists in Spain argue that the criticism has allowed the king to realize that he has made a “big mistake.” Such criticism is unimaginable in Thailand.

Juan Carlos is Spain’s first king since the monarchy was restored in 1978 after the death of Fascist dictator Franco, who had personally selected Juan Carlos for the job.  Spaniards abolished the monarchy in 1931, after voting in a republican government.

Juan Carlos is “credited with saving the country’s fledgling democracy in 1981, when he went on television and condemned an attempted military coup and privately demanded that those involved give up.” While the king in Thailand is often credited with being some kind of democrat, he has never criticized a coup, except when it seemed to be against his selected prime ministers, as in 1977 and 1981.

Even if Spaniards have usually been rather coy in criticizing the monarchy, ” the image of the monarchy has been consistently diminished for years. Spaniards gave the monarchy an unsatisfactory grade in the most recent poll, taken in October 2011…”. Again, that would be unthinkable in Thailand. And, that poll came prior to recent poor publicity.

Those scandals include:

the king’s grandson was injured lightly in his foot in a shooting accident, and his parents could be legally liable for allowing a child to use a firearm. There is also an ongoing trial against the king’s son-in-law, who is accused of embezzling millions of euros in public funds, a particularly egregious thing amid the country’s extreme economic hardship.

On the shooting of the prince earlier in April, the Daily Mail Online reported:

The 13-year-old grandson of Spain’s King Juan Carlos is recovering after accidentally shooting himself in the foot with a shotgun….Felipe Juan Froilan was doing target practice outside the family home north of Madrid, when he misfired into his foot as he walked…. Under Spanish law, it is illegal for children under 14 to possess or discharge firearms…. A palace official declined to comment on the infraction.

Most injuries to Thai royals are carefully kept secrets and even speculating on royal health has led to lese majeste investigations.

But then the report goes on to mention an earlier gun accident when the royal family was in exile in Portugal and that has haunted the Spanish royal family:

In March 1956, Juan Carlos was handling a gun that accidentally went off and killed his 14-year-old younger brother Alfonso…. The king, then 18, was reported to have been completely shocked and devastated and was said to have told family and friends that he ‘felt responsible.’

That event will rings bells for those with an interest in Thailand’s royal history. But first, some background from Wikipedia.

It tells us that on Maundy Thursday in March 1956 the brothers Alfonso and Juan Carlos were at their parents’ home when the former “died in a gun accident.” As Wikipedia explains, the Spanish Embassy in Portugal issued a communiqué, which sounds remarkably similar to the same kind of event at Bangkok’s Grand Palace a decade earlier:

Whilst His Highness the Infante Alfonso was cleaning a revolver last evening with his brother, a shot was fired hitting his forehead and killing him in a few minutes. The accident took place at 20.30 hours, after the Infante’s return from the Maundy Thursday religious service, during which he had received Holy Communion.

The Wikipedia account continues:

Very quickly, however, rumours appeared in newspapers that the gun had actually been held by Alfonso’s brother Juan Carlos at the moment the shot was fired. Josefina Carolo, dressmaker to Alfonso’s mother, said that Juan Carlos playfully pointed the pistol at Alfonso and pulled the trigger, unaware that the pistol was loaded. Bernardo Arnoso, a Portuguese friend of Juan Carlos, also said that Juan Carlos fired the pistol not knowing that it was loaded, and adding that the bullet ricocheted off a wall hitting Alfonso in the face. Helena Matheopoulos, a Greek author who spoke with Alfonso’s sister Pilar, said that Alfonso had been out of the room and when he returned and pushed the door open, the door knocked Juan Carlos in the arm causing him to fire the pistol.

Unlike, Thailand where royal secrecy and decades of cover up has led to speculation and rumor, Wikipedia states:

Most historians agree nowadays that the pistol was fired by Juan Carlos by accident. After the accident, the father, Don Juan de Borbón, sent Juan Carlos back to Spain immediately after the funeral and, because of pain and anger against Juan Carlos, did not talk to him for a while.

There have been various stories about the origins of the pistol. The most frequently repeated is that it was a gift to Alfonso from General Franco.

Such statements are, like so much else associated with a monarchy that thrives on a lack of transparency and scrutiny, unthinkable for Thailand. For Thailand, the most recent account of the shooting in 1946, which includes some interesting new documents, can be found at Zenjournalist (and our pics are mostly from that site).

The story of the tribulations of the Spanish monarchy, re-created by military Fascists and claimed to be democratic and enjoying the fruits of monarchy, seems to fit Thailand’s circumstances  in ways that are  uncanny.