Thai King's personal life in spotlight again after royal consort's reinstatement

  • Thailand
  • Sunday, 06 Sep 2020

Royal consort Major-General Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi had been dismissed for being ungrateful to the king. - Reuters

SINGAPORE, Sept 6 (The Straits Times/ANN): News that Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi is back in favour with Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn took citizens by surprise last Wednesday (Sept 2), but the development once again shone the spotlight on the King's personal life.

No one expected that Sineenat would be back in the royal fold. Then again, no one could have predicted her swift fall from grace 10 months ago either, less than three months after being made royal noble consort.

The latest palace intrigue comes amid widespread protests across Thailand by pro-democracy groups calling for more transparency and reforms in the royal institution.

"(Sineenat's reinstatement) will add fire to the demonstrations and calls for reforms," Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, told The Sunday Times.

The Royal Gazette in its announcement dated Aug 29 declared that Ms Sineenat, 35, had all her titles restored as she "is untainted".

The phrase became a top trending Twitter hashtag in Thailand on Thursday morning.

The three-finger salute has been used by anti-government protesters as a symbol against dictatorship.

The former royal bodyguard was stripped of her titles for "misbehaviour and disloyalty against the monarch" last October. She was also accused of seeking to sabotage Queen Suthida's appointment in a bid to take the position herself.

"(She) was acting out against the royal marriage and the appointment of the queen," said the Royal Gazette in a detailed condemnation of the disgraced consort.

Soon after, the King fired nearly a dozen palace officials - all of whom received harsh rebuke in the Royal Gazette - for reasons such as "extremely evil misconduct".

Following her royal excommunication, Sineenat disappeared from public view and all mention of her in the palace website was scrubbed.

It is unclear why Sineenat, who is believed to be in Germany now, is being reinstated.

The announcement once again shone the spotlight on the 68-year-old monarch's personal life, long a subject of speculation both in his homeland and abroad.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn - who ascended the throne in December 2016 after the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, two months earlier - spends most of his time abroad, especially in Germany, where he keeps a home.

In March, after an overseas Thai activist posted online about the King continuing to travel in Germany during the coronavirus pandemic, the Thai-language hashtag #whydoweneedaking became one of the top trending topics on Thailand's Twitter.

The government subsequently came out to warn citizens about online posts questioning the monarchy.

Thailand is strictly governed by lese majeste laws which punish those who insult or defame the monarchy with up to 15 years in jail.

Facebook has taken down content and groups that the government deemed to be insulting to the monarchy, the latest being a group with one million members that has criticised the King.

Although Thailand abolished absolute monarchy more than 80 years ago, the king still wields significant power.

Since he ascended the throne, King Maha Vajiralongkorn has consolidated his power by taking personal control of the multibillion-dollar assets of the Crown Property Bureau and two army units.

He also directed the government to rewrite parts of the Constitution that touched on the role of the king, including the procedure for appointing a regent in the king's absence and whether royal edicts should be countersigned by a government minister.

Since July, protesters have gathered in large numbers in the country calling for amendments to the military-backed Constitution, a fresh election and a democracy "with the monarch under the Constitution".

King Maha Vajiralongkorn has been married four times. His first wife was his cousin whom he divorced in 1991.

In 1994, he married actress Sujarinee Vivacharawongse.

She had been his steady companion since the late 1970s and gave birth to four sons and a daughter.

However, the marriage did not last long, with Sujarinee fleeing to Britain in 1996 with her children.

She now lives with her sons in the United States, while her daughter returned to live with her father in Thailand.

The King in 2001 married Srirasmi Suwadee - who had served as his "lady-in-waiting" in the 1990s - and they have a son together. The marriage ended abruptly and acrimoniously in 2014 when she was purged and stripped of all her titles while members of her family were jailed for insulting the monarchy.

He married Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya in May last year and raised eyebrows two months later when he anointed Sineenat as "Chao Khun Phra" or noble consort, a title that was last used almost a century ago.

Born in the northern Thai province of Nan, Sineenat, nicknamed Koi, is a trained pilot and a former nurse.

After the unexpected elevation of her status came the unprecedented release of a series of candid pictures featuring the new consort - from her in a crop top at the controls of a fighter jet, to her and the King dressed in combat fatigues, with royal poodle in arm - which drew so many visitors to the palace website that it crashed.

Those photos, along with her repute, were, however, effaced less than three months later. - The Straits Times/Asian News Network
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