Thailand's Crown Prince: A King in Waiting?
It is a sorry state of affairs that the next king of Thailand is known for ordering a 6,000-mile (10,000 km) takeaway on the tab of the country’s finance ministry.
In 2000, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn visited Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. The prince, however, appeared to be less taken by the Bard than the quality of the cooking at Thai Kingdom, a restaurant along Warwick Road. Indeed he was so taken by its dishes that he later instructed his secretary to order 350 items from the restaurant to be then flown by an aircraft of Thai Airways International to Bangkok for his pleasure.
This incident made news worldwide, and caused great embarrassment to the Thai king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is known to hate conspicuous consumption.
But no one was surprised. Vajiralongkorn, now 57, has always been known for his high life and womanising – a glaring contrast to his father, whose six decades of charitable work in Thailand has elevated him to the status of semi-divinity.
Vajiralongkorn is the king’s only son. At age 20, in 1972, Vajiralongkorn was made crown prince and heir-apparent. Two years later, the constitution was changed to allow a female to inherit the throne.
In 1977, Vajiralongkorn’s second sister, Chakri Sirindhorn, was made Crown Princess. Unlike her brother, who is three years older, Sirindhorn is well-liked by the Thais. She holds a PhD in social sciences, and is considered to be the intellectual heir of her father and his right-hand person. Father and daughter have travelled widely within Thailand on many projects to upgrade the lives of the people.
There is growing talk the king may hand over the throne to Sirindhorn instead. It would certainly put the monarchy – which under Bhumibol has become a great stabilising force for Thailand – in good hands. But Thailand has never had a female monarch and, the constitution notwithstanding, many of her people may not stand for one. Moreover, Sirindhorn is unmarried, which would create a succession problem if she ascends the throne.
Vajiralongkorn, on the other hand, is married – not once, but thrice. His first wife was a cousin, with whom he had a daughter. Before the marriage, however, Vajiralongkorn was already living with a commoner named Sucharinee Polpraserth, with whom he had a few children.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand and the royal family on his 60th celebration day.
Photo credit: Paisit
In 1993 the prince successfully sued for divorced and married Polpraserth. The marriage lasted only three years before she fled to England with her children. In 2001 Vajiralongkorn wed again, also to a commoner, and signalled his intention to “settle down”. He has a son with her. The boy, now two, is second in line to the throne.
Recently, Vajiralongkorn has become more active in charity work. But no one is impressed. The truth is Bhumibol has long embodied the kingship ideal of rajadharma, under which the monarch’s role is to serve his subjects. The prince, however, has shown that he fully expects his subjects to serve him. Under him, Thailand would be a very different animal.