The tweets, all 1.2 million of them posted by the Thai people, asked the same question: “Why do we need a king?” As Thailand struggled through the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic while its king partied in a Bavarian hotel, it seemed, and remains, a vital question.
It’s a question that’s still being asked, loudly, by thousands of protestors. Earlier this month, 18,000 activists gathered outside the Grand Palace, calling for the end of the monarchy. Despite laws which prohibit any ill words against the monarchy, and are enforceable with up to 15 years in prison, a new generation is finally standing up for what they believe in, chanting “down with feudalism” outside the palace this past weekend.
In Thailand, around 75% of citizens are active social media users and, as in Hong Kong, protestors are finding it a great way to plan social movements. But with apps like Facebook and Twitter subject to increasingly strict government interference, protestors are getting creative, even using dating apps like Tinder to communicate.
Unhappy citizens in Thailand want three things: the dissolution of the parliament, to end the intimidation of citizens, and a new constitution. The thread running through it all? A cry to dissolve the Thai monarchy. In particular, protestors want King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the 68-year-old geriatric-terrible to step down from the throne. This may well be the final straw in an annus horribilis for the Thai monarch who has finally seen his youthful indiscretions, bizarre habits and lecherous lifestyle catch up with him. And not before time.
But, as Vajiralongkorn gathers a private army around him amid ongoing protests, the future could go either way. In a country on the brink, only one thing is for certain; Vajiralongkorn will remain unpredictable to the last.
Phrabat Somdet Phra Vajira Klao Chao Yu Hua, A.K.A Maha Vajiralongkorn, A.K.A King Rama X, accepted the Thai throne on 1 December 2016 and was crowned over a three-day celebration from 4-6 May the following year.
The coronation saw 1,300 people and not a few elephants parade past the palace over the course of six and a half hours at a reputed cost of $31 million. Swapping his usual crop top and low-slung jeans for something more formal, Vajiralongkorn – presumably a big fan of Disney’s Aladdin – appeared in a 7.3kg crown topped with an Indian diamond.
Educated in Britain and Australia, at 64, Vajiralongkorn was (and remains) the oldest Thai monarch in history. He’s also by far its most controversial. With a personal wealth of $30 billion, he has the cash to indulge his every whim too. All this despite the fact that, as a prince, he is believed to have had to beg a former prime minister for funds to cover his gambling debts.
Thailand was not a rich country after World War II. But today, much of the royal family’s wealth resides in property. It is thought to own around four square miles of central Bangkok as well as a large stake in the Kempinski hotel group. Vajiralongkorn also owns a mansion on Lake Starnberg, near Munich and is reported to frequently spend months at a time at the Munich Kempinski with a harem of women. However, it was to Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in the Bavarian Alps that Vajiralongkorn fled – along with a 20-woman entourage – when Thailand was hit with coronavirus.
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