Thailand’s new king is having fun in Germany, while at home the subjects are suffering from the lull in tourism. Here and there there is criticism of his undignified behavior online, but it bounces off.
The corona virus has also brought life to a standstill in Thailand. The streets in Bangkok are deserted, at Suvarnabhumi Airport, otherwise a hub of international tourism, only a fraction of the usual passengers arrive. The important tourism industry, which contributed about a fifth to the Thai gross domestic product in 2018, is on the ground. In such a crisis, people expect their head of state to show solidarity and encouragement, such as Queen Elizabeth II donated to the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in a well-received speech.
But Thailand’s King Rama X. Maha Vajiralongkorn has only returned to his kingdom for short stays since the outbreak of the crisis. He spends most of his time in Germany. He lives with a special permit at the Hotel Sonnenbichl in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The competent district office justifies the special permit as follows: “The guests are a single, homogeneous group of people with no fluctuation. The hotel is not accessible to normal accommodation providers.”
The king is accompanied by an entourage of around 100, including a harem of at least 20 women. According to research by the newspaper “Bild”, the king organized walking flights through Germany at the end of March. He is said to have flown to Hanover, Leipzig and Dresden with his Boeing 737-800. However, the king did not get out, but immediately started again after touchdown. Just for fun to further qualify as a pilot.
The king remains true to himself with his eccentric behavior. On October 13, 2016, he succeeded his father to the throne. The magnificent coronation ceremony took place a year ago from May 4th to 6th. But instead of following in the footsteps of his father, who is revered by many Thais, the scandals do not stop.
“The king’s behavior is a disaster for the reputation of the Thai monarchy,” said journalist and activist Andrew MacGregor Marshall. When asked what would characterize Thailand’s king in one sentence, Marshall replied: “A disturbed, sadistic and authoritarian monarch who should have no place in the 21st century.”
Criticism is growing louder
No Thai criticism should be as open as the author of the book “A Kingdom in Crisis”, which is banned in Thailand, because the king and the royal house are protected from any criticism by a draconian law of insulting majesty. Violations can be punished with up to 15 years in prison. In the past, there have been several cases where Thais have been jailed for several years for sharing a Facebook post. Nevertheless, alongside private conversations, social media is the only source to learn how young Thais in particular see the monarchy.
Despite the risks to users, a tweet from exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul circulated at the end of March, showing the Royal Boeing’s flight route to Germany and asking in Thai: “What do we need a king for?” In a very short time it was divided a thousand times and led the trends in Thailand.
ว ชิ รา ลง กร ณ์ เบื่อ ๆ ก็ เอา เครื่อง ออก บิน เล่น ต่าง จาก เมื่อ วาน ที่ บิน รอบ โดย ไม่ แวะ วัน นี้ เขา บิน จอด ที่ ฮัม บู ร์ ก
แอ น ด รู คาด ว่า เขา คง หนี ไวรัส ไป ฮัม บู ร์ ก ผม ว่า ไม่ แน่ เขา เคย ไป เที่ยว มา แต่ ก็ อาจ อยู่ สัก พัก ก็ได้ (ปล่อย ให้ ประชากร วิตก ไป เยอรมัน แม้ จะ ห่วง ไวรัส ก็ ไม่ใช่ เรื่อง อะไร ของ เขา)# กษัตริย์ มี ไว้ ทำไม pic.twitter.com/hcfwGlgx7h
– สม ศักดิ์ เจียม (@somsakjeam) March 21, 2020
Memes from the HBO series “Game of Thrones”, for example, have long been shared on social networks, in which it says: “We do not serve any prince who is only king because his father was king.”
– Urtzx (@ Urtzx1) March 21, 2020
Overthrow of the king?
A small proportion of the users extended the criticism, which was primarily aimed at the incumbent king, to the monarchy as a whole. A user on Facebook, for example, wrote: “It makes me happy to see the king questioned on Twitter. But we have to go beyond the insults. I want people to find out and understand why there is a king why it was considered very important and why it seems superfluous at the moment. ”
Some users even went so far as to implicitly call for the abolition of the monarchy: “To be honest, I wish we already had a president.”
– ᴊᴇɴɪɴ (@jeongjenin_JJ) March 22, 2020
However, the criticism of the king and royal family is primarily limited to the younger generation, as confirmed by a Thai expert from DW, who does not want to be named for security reasons. Thais over 30 who made the last king Rama IX. still had an active hold on the institution, even if they secretly disapproved of the incumbent king.
Military and royalty
The Thai royal family remained silent on the shit storm. But on March 22, 2020, Puttipong Punnakanta, who sits in the cabinet as Minister for Digital and Society, tweeted a threat. It is dangerous to post content that could endanger national security. The accompanying picture spoke a clear language:
14 ความ ผิด เกี่ยว กับ การนำ ข้อมูล เข้า สู่ ระบบ คอม ฯ ก่อ ให้ เกิด ภัย ต่อ ความ มั่นคง ความ ปลอดภัย สาธารณะ / ประเทศ โทษจำ คุก ไม่ เกิน 5 ปี หรือ ปรับ ไม่ เกิน 1 แสน บาท หรือ ทั้ง จำ ทั้ง ปรับ หาก ทำ ต่อ ประชาชน / สาธารณะ โทษจำ คุก ไม่ เกิน 3 ปี หรือ ปรับ ไม่ เกิน 6 หมื่น บาท หรือ ทั้ง จำ ทั้ง ปรับ หาก ทำ ต่อ บุคคล ใด บุคคล หนึ่ง pic.twitter.com/EVRm1dWQtx
– พุทธิ พง ษ์ ปุ ณ ณ กันต์ (@BeePunnakanta) March 22, 2020
Obviously, the government that emerged from a 2014 military coup protects the current king. The reason is a mutual dependency between the monarchy and the military. The unloved king needs the military and its government to secure its power. The military relies on the king because it is easier to come to terms with a lifetime monarch than with changing politicians and parties in a democratic system.
The King’s unbroken power
The Thailand expert Marshall does not believe that the growing resentment will result in concrete steps against the monarchy because of the government and military support for the king. Vajiralongkorn has successfully changed the kingdom towards an absolute monarchy since taking office, although Thailand is officially a constitutional monarchy, Marshall said. To do this, he built an elite unit of soldiers and police officers under his direct control. He brought the royal family’s assets, previously administered by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), under his direct control. An estimated 30 to 60 billion US dollars (27.6 to 55.2 billion euros).
Marshall says: “It is clear that the king does not have the support of the majority of Thais, but it will be very difficult to challenge his power as he has control over the military.” An uprising would lead to bloodshed in Bangkok, according to Marshall. DW’s second interview partner is not sure about the majority of Thais. He believes that although a majority of the younger Thais view the king and monarchy critically, not necessarily a majority of the population. This criticism would presumably only lead to concrete politics and a weakening of the monarchy after a generation change.
Author: Rodion Ebbighausen