People have been jailed for up to 30 years for mocking the Thai royal family.
But its greatest source of insult is the clown prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who is set to take the throne following the death on Thursday of his much loved if overly sensitive father King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The king ruled for 70 years. Vajiralongkorn, 64, might enjoy 20 years if he plays ball with the military – and if the country doesn’t fall into revolutionary chaos as some analysts are all but predicting.
Vajiralongkorn has been likened to Prince Charles, another ageing and eccentric royal whose future kingship inspires little excitement. It’s a crude comparison.
Charles, for all his fusty marital shenanigans and talking to trees, didn’t go so far to appoint a pet poodle as Air Marshall to the RAF. Nor is there evidence he’s been cruel to his children.
In 2007, Vajiralongkorn was filmed throwing a birthday party for the pet poodle, Air Chief Marshal Foo Foo, whilst his third wife – since divorced – shuffled around half naked and pretended to eat cake off the floor.
One has to ask, too, would Prince Charles present himself to an official party at an airport in a tiny crop top, fake tattoos, tight jeans and that damned fluffy poodle cradled in his arms? Vajiralongkorn was thus photographed at Munich airport last year.
Vajiralongkorn was educated at the Duntroon Military College in Australia and is actually remembered by his classmates as a good bloke, according to Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Associate Professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.
He then trained as a pilot and has used fighter jets as his personal toys. The same goes for women.
In 1982, on a US tour, his own mother told reporters: “My son the crown prince is a little bit of a Don Juan. He is a good student, a good boy, but women find him interesting and he finds women even more interesting.’”
He’s on his way to a fourth marriage. Children from previous marriages have been sent into exile. And his top-bloke status is now a distant memory.
The Thai people, who rate the prince as even more unpopular than the military junta, are reported to be on “tenterhooks” as to what a King Vajiralongkorn means for the long febrile country, according to The Economist.
In an iPolitics column earlier this year, as the king was gravely ill, respected Asian analyst Jonathan Manthorpe wrote: “Unlike the revered King Bhumibol, Vajiralongkorn is widely disliked by the general public — and hated by those who know him. The palace and its loyalists among Thailand’s class-conscious elite fear that if Vajiralongkorn comes to the throne, he will usher in a period of revolutionary upheaval that could destroy the structure of Thai society.”
Essentially, Vajiralongkorn is a brat with no previous interest in public service, royal duties or loyalty beyond his own needs.
Some blame has to go to how he was raised. He’s confessed in interviews that he was unable to tie his own shoes because the royal household did it for him.
In recent years, he’s been stationed in Germany, where he’s been a royal pain in the arse.
In 2011, the German court impounded Vajiralongkorn’s Boeing 737 aircraft as compensation for an overdue debt of 30 million Euros the Thai government owed.
As the Thai government negotiated a bailout, Vajiralongkorn left his Mercedes-Benz SLK in a private carpark, protected by a dozen bodyguards. He feared it might be seized as collateral.
All of which might be amusing if the prince were to stay put in Europe. But he’s agreed to take on the job of king.
Hopefully, he might heed the words of his mother spoken on that US tour 34 years ago: “If the people of Thailand do not approve of the behaviour of my son, then he would either have to change his behaviour or resign from the royal family.”
Neither seems likely.