King of Thailand Runs Out of Friends, at Home and Abroad

Linh Pham
The billionaire king of Thailand is running out of friends at home and abroad.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who spends most of his time in Germany in a hotel in the Bavarian Alps and is accompanied by a modern harem made up of up to 20 female wives, has now been warned by Angela Merkel's government not to conduct any state business on German soil.
His stay there, known at the start of the coronavirus crisis when the hotel asked for permission to stay open, has become a focal point for unprecedented protests in Thailand against the repressive state and the semi-divine royal family.
The protests were sparked by reports of the king's enormous wealth, estimated at $ 30 billion to $ 40 billion by the London Financial Times, after heads of state were effectively placed under his direct control by the leaders of a successful 2014 coup. He is considered the richest king in the world. Reports of his gilded life in the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in Bavaria, where he is visited by an entourage of up to 20 concubines, including his fourth wife, who have all been given the same honorary name, do not help his image at home or abroad.
However, being one of the king's friends is not without risk, as the fate of his “official” lover Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi (35), who shortly after his marriage was called Chao Khun Phra, means “royal noble wife”, fourth wife, queen Suthida.
In October 2019, it was announced that Sineenat had been stripped of the title in a palace statement describing her as "ungrateful" for conducting a rivalry with Queen Suthida.
She is believed to have spent ten months in prison, but was reassigned to her previous position earlier this year. A statement was published in the government's Royal Gazette stating that Sineenat was "immaculate" and therefore entitled to the title of royal noblewoman and to all of them from previous contributions within the palace.
As The Daily Beast recently reported, Vajiralongkorn is also believed to have built an extraordinary fleet of 38 jets and helicopters for the exclusive use of the Thai royal family.
Reports of his medieval privilege, kept from mainstream local media due to strict bans, are now trickling back into the country via social media and Facebook. Thailand tried earlier this year to get Facebook to remove a group critical of the monarchy that had more than a million members but failed in the attempt.
His existence overseas has resulted in some demonstrators calling him a "German".
Although he flew back to Thailand on Saturday and is expected to stay there until the end of the month, the king's de facto residence in Bavaria has now begun to raise eyebrows in Germany as well, as Angela Merkel's government specifically said last week Thai king should stop doing state business on German soil.
Maria Adebahr, spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry, said the government had repeatedly stressed to Thailand's ambassador in Berlin that "foreign state affairs should not be pursued from German soil," and added: "We have made our position very clear."
The topic even reached the German Bundestag: Frithjof Schmidt, a member of the opposition Greens, asked why the German government had allowed the king to participate in domestic politics from Bavaria for months. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas replied: "We would always clearly counteract the efforts of the guests in our country to conduct state affairs out of our country."
Schmidt and many Germans feel deeply uncomfortable that their country actually offers a headquarters for a repressive regime: Schmidt cited the example of the king's role in unilaterally preventing his older sister, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, from running as a candidate in the EU Election on March 24th.
The move against the princess was widely viewed as further evidence of a lopsided race in which Prime Minister and leader of the 2014 coup of Thailand, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, as 250 Senate members to help, voted the PM an unfair advantage , were simply chosen by the junta.
Strict laws preventing direct criticism of the monarch, his household and even his pets are being openly and comprehensively challenged for the first time in ongoing student-led protests against the government.
"It's the biggest problem in Thailand," Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak told the Financial Times. “The royal institution can get involved in politics because it has enough money.
"If we don't say it now, when are we going to say it?"
Opponents of the leadership and privilege of the Thai royal family have been encouraged in recent months as the number of rallies against the establishment by student protesters has risen. Thailand is battling a deep recession caused by COVID-19 and the collapse of the central tourism trade.
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