สมเด็จพระบรมโอรสาธิราช เจ้าฟ้ามหาวชิราลงกรณ สยามมกุฎราชกุมาร
In 2002, The Economist wrote that, „Vajiralongkorn is held in much less esteem (than the king). Bangkok gossips like to swap tales of his lurid personal life…
Besides, no successor, however worthy, can hope to equal the stature King Bhumibol has attained after 64 years on the throne.“ This issue of The Economist was banned in Thailand. In 2010, another issue of The Economist (which was not distributed in Thailand) asserted that Vajiralongkorn is „widely loathed and feared“ and „unpredictable to the point of eccentricity“, while the online journal Asia Sentinel alleged that he is „regarded as erratic and virtually incapable of ruling“ and was blocked shortly thereafter.
In a diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks, senior Singaporean foreign ministry official Bilahari Kausikan asserted that Vajiralongkorn has a gambling habit which was partly funded by now self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Early in Thaksin’s administration, Thaksin seemed to invest heavily in cultivating close ties to the Crown Prince. The two men later had a spectacular falling-out, prompting the Crown Prince to abandon the Nonthaburi Palace that Thaksin had purchased and outfitted for him, moving to the Sukhothai Palace downtown.
Stories vary about a meeting between Thaksin and the Crown Prince in London in 2007; the version assessed as most likely is that Thaksin sought an audience with the Crown Prince, and, when this was not granted, he inserted himself into the reception line at the Crown Prince’s hotel and had a 45-second discussion devoid of substance.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn probably maintained some sort of relationship with fugitive former PM Thaksin, seeing him from time to time. Thaksin ran the risk of self-delusion if he thought that the Crown Prince would act as his friend/supporter in the future merely because of Thaksin’s monetary support; he does not enjoy that sort of relationship. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has a preference to spend time based out of Munich with his main mistress, rather than in Thailand with his wife and son. The Crown Prince frequently slipped away from Thailand, and information about his air hostess mistresses was widely available on websites.
Thaksin had spoken of the Crown Prince and written letters to him in a manner that appeared disrespectful of the Crown Prince’s royal heritage. Thaksin also had contacted the Thai Ambassador in London to try to arrange an audience with Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn during the Crown Prince’s April 2007 visit to the United Kingdom. When the Thai Ambassador denied this request, Thaksin waited in the lobby of the Crown Prince’s hotel, inserting himself into the receiving line of hotel staff. On arrival, the Crown Prince had a very brief exchange with Thaksin in this public setting. But when figures from Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party were told that the deposed PM was acting inappropriately, it was claimed that the Crown Prince had summoned Thaksin for a lengthy audience. This story illustrated an unacceptable effort by Thaksin to force himself upon the royal family — and then misrepresent his interactions.
The rivalry between the Crown Prince and Princess Sirindhorn is well known to Thailand’s political class. In some ways the Crown Prince was overshadowed by Princess Sirindhorn’s popularity and charisma, though this dynamic had not in any way negatively affected their close relationship. Some thought the Crown Prince was aware of what he needed to do in order to be a successful monarch, and he would change his personality and character overnight in order to fit the demands of the job. The consensus view among many Thai was that the Crown Prince could not stop either, nor would he be able, at age 59 [as of 2012], to rectify his behavior.
A planned visit by the Thai Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn planned for early 2007 was postponed when the crown prince was refused „special VIP treatment“ while visiting China. This would have been his first trip to the PRC; his sister, Crown Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, had visited China a number of times and speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese.
Queen Sirikit might want to see her favorite, Prince Vajiralongkorn, on the throne. Prem Tinsulanond, an aid to the king, would prefer to see Princess Sirindhorn on the throne. To defame her father’s third wife, Srirasmi, would enhance the chances of Princess Bhajarakitiyabha’s [Vajiralongkorn’s firstborn child with his first wife, Princess Somsawali] to follow the next king (or queen) on the throne, instead of her half-brother Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, Vajiralongkorn’s son by Srirasmi.
The Crown Prince’s reputation continued to suffer and may have declined further, in part due to the dissemination online and by DVD of material harmful to the image of the Crown Prince and his Royal Consort. Some in palace circles are working actively to undercut whatever support exists for the Royal Consort, and we assume that this undercurrent also has implications for the Crown Prince. According to some accounts, the people would have a difficult time accepting Princess Srirasmi as their queen, based largely on the widely distributed salacious video of the birthday celebration for the Crown Prince’s white poodle Fufu, in which Sirasmi appears wearing nothing more than a G-string in front of other guests and still photographers.
One of the political dramas unfolding in Thailand in 2009 was the ongoing dispute over appointment of a new National Police Chief and the possible resignation of PM Abhisit’s Secretary General Niphon Promphan, who also worked for the Crown Prince. At the Crown Prince’s direction, Niphon opposed Abhisit’s choice, GEN Patheep, in favor of the Crown Prince’s choice, GEN Chumpol Manmai. The inside story on why the Crown Prince wanted Chumpol so much, and risk criticism for intervening in a high level personnel choice against the evident wishes of the PM, is that Chumpol allegedly served as Thaksin’s bag man, personally delivering to the Crown Prince monies skimmed off the proceeds of lotteries. Such a story cannot be reported in the Thai media due to Lese Majeste concerns.
The prince was whispered to be arrogant, temperamental, fond of drink, overly attached to western goods, and of course a womanizer; recent rumors are that he has contracted HIV. He does not enjoy the aura of morality and virtue that seems to settle effortlessly on his father and sister. Nevertheless, the forgiving and easy-going Thai seem willing, by and large, to allow the prince to put his tarnished past behind him.
HRH Prince Vajiralongkorn was on 28 December 1972 proclaimed the Crown Prince and Heir Apparent to the throne of the kingdom. On that day, HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn took an oath at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha vowing to perform royal duties for the sake of the nation and the betterment of his Thai citizens. As for his roles in military affairs, HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has been in the military service since 9 January 1975, serving in many positions.
HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn followed in royal footsteps of TM the King and Queen in promoting the well-being of Thai people. He also performed many royal duties promoting public health, social welfare, foreign affairs, and education, as well as religious and legal functions. Some of them had been performed as designated by TM the King and Queen.
Having spent considerable time in the provinces, either on his own visits or accompanying other Members of the Royal Family, the Crown Prince became aware of the need for better health care for rural residents. In 1987, he established full-service hospitals in the South at Nakhon Si Thammarat, Yala, and Pattani: and in the Northeast at Kalasin, Ubon Ratchathani, and Udon Ratchathani, frequently calling on patients at these hospitals to ensure they are given the best care possible. The Crown Prince, an avid pilot, has said that he still flies a Boeing 737 for Thai Airways occasionally.
The royal birth of the Crown Prince, as H.R.H. Prince Vajiralongkorn, on 28 July 1952, brought great joy to the nation. Their Majesties‘ first child, Princess Ubol Ratana was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, over a year earlier. So the birth of the prince was the first to be directly felt among the Thai people, then just beginning to look up with hope after long-drawn war years, exacerbated by the tragic loss of a dear young monarch, King Ananda Mahidol, Rama VIII.
The prince grew up in the people’s eyes, thanks to His Majesty the King’s hobby of shooting home movies. For years, the royal film „phaphayon suan phra ong“ was the favorite show in every cinema prior to the feature film, or even shown on its own to appreciative audiences who seemed never to get enough of this candid view of the royal family. At the heart of the film are the four royal children: one prince and three princesses.
H.R.H. Prince Vajiralongkorn followed the royal tradition, pursuing his studies at Milfield School in England, and later at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Australia, from where he graduated on 9 December 1975. Upon his return to Thailand, he was ordained as a Buddhist monk for a period. Prior to that, on 28 December 1972, he was conferred the title of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the third crown prince of the Rattanakosin Period, following Crown Prince Maha Vajirunhis, the elder brother of H.R.H. Prince Mahidol, the Prince Father, and Crown Prince Maha Vajiravudh, who became King Rama VI.
His son, H.R.H. Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, was born on 29 April 2005. His eldest daughter, H.R.H. Princess Bajrakitiyabha, earned a doctorate degree from Cornell University in the United States, and his second daughter, H.R.H. Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, started her college life at Chulalongkorn University.
- married 3 January 1977, Mom Luang Soamsawali Kitiyakara (b. 1957) On January 3, 1977 Vajiralongkorn married Princess Soamsavali Kitiyakara (born 1957), a first cousin on his mother’s side. The marriage ended in divorce in the 1980s (divorced); daughter, Princess Bajrakitiyabha, b. 7 December 1978;
- partner, Yuvadhida Polpraserth (born 1962),; four sons (no royal claim); daughter, HRH Princess Siriwanwari Nariratana, b. 8 January 1987 (elevated status by royal command 15 June 2005); Although Yuvadhida was made a princess and her children also granted titles, the lack of a legitimate male heir was ostensibly the main reason that Thailand legislated to allow women to inherit the throne. According to the December 1999 issue of Asiaweek, Vajiralongkorn’s relationship with Yuvadhida came to an end in 1996 when former prime minister Banharn Silpa-Archa made a statement that the then Air Chief Marshall Anand Rodsamkhan was dismissed from his posting at the Royal Palace, prompting unconfirmed rumors that there had been an extra-marital affair.
Yuvadhida and her children fled to England, but Vajiralongkorn travelled to England and brought his daughter back to Bangkok. In 1979 Vajiralongkorn risked public censure by taking a mistress, the actress Yuvadhida Polpraserth; over the next decade she bore him five children, four sons and a daughter. The relationship came to an acrimonious end in 1996. Yuvadhida was visiting her children in England, where they were exiled, with the air chief marshall, when the prince summarily cancelled her travel documents as well as those of her sons. Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana of Thailand, or Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana (8 January 1987—present) is a princess of Thailand and the only daughter of Crown Prince Maha Vajralongkorn and Sucharini Vivacharawongse, who is commonly known as Yuvadhida Polpraserth.
The Crown Prince’s former consort, Mom Yuvathida, is known as Mom Benz. On the Queen’s visit to the United States she agreed to an audience with Mom Benz and her children, but Mom Benz had not made contact with the royal traveling party. Subsequently, Ambassador Sakthip was asked to travel to Florida to meet with Mom Benz and her children, but Mom Benz declined the meeting. Apparently, there is an issue of medical expenses for Mom Benz’s third son; the Crown Prince reportedly has made it clear that he will cover these expenses and that he does not want his mother or father to be burdened with the issue of his former family.
- Vajiralongkorn married again, on February 10, 2001, to Mom Srirasmi Mahidol na Ayuthaya, a commoner from a modest background who was later elevated to HRH Princess Srirasmi. married 10 February 2001, Mom Srirasmi Mahidol na Ayudhya (HRH Princess Srirasmi, The Royal Consort) (b. 9 December 1971); son, HRH Prince Teepangkorn Rasmichoti, b. 29 April 2005. This marriage was not disclosed until recently. Srirasm’s life had changed radically when she became a Princess; she had to master massive responsibilities and deal with a wide range of issues relating to protocol and the use of court language. Although she conducted herself publicly with perfect grace and composure, the Crown Prince said, in private she had felt some frustration adapting to her new role. Thais loved her because, like the King’s mother, she was a „commoner,“ and her background added to her charm. she had worked for the Queen for 15 years at the Bang Pa-in summer palace.
In 2007, CD’s with compromising footage from inside the Prince’s palace began circulating. The 23-minute video featured the Crown Prince with his consort, Princess Srirasmi, obviously celebrating the later’s birthday. A bare-breasted, almost naked, Srirasmi cut the birthday cake and sang songs with her poodle, while palace servants fulfilled their duties on their knees. Making this decadence public was aimed at confirming the image of Vajiralongkorn as an unacceptable heir. [the video is actually amazingly tedious].
Thailand’s Princess Srirasm, the third wife of heir to the throne Prince Vajiralongkorn, asked to give up her royal status, according to a statement released by the palace’s Royal Gazette on 12 Decemberf 2014. The princess, 43, is the mother of Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, next in line to the throne after his father. The request comes in the wake of revelations that members of her family were arrested amid corruption allegations. At least six of the princess’ relatives had been charged with bribery, extortion, and using the monarchy’s name for personal gain. In November 2014, they were stripped of their royal titles. The scandal came amid anxiety over 87-year-old King Bhumibol’s deteriorating health. Following medical advice, the king canceled his annual birthday address.
From the Chulalongkorn period onward, members of the Thai royal family liked to ship their children off to be educated in the West. The goals were determinedly to catch up with Western modernity and to flaunt their own civilised veneer in front of their Western counterparts.
Thai Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is seen at a royal ceremony in Bangkok in May. Photo: EPAThai Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is seen at a royal ceremony in Bangkok in May. Photo: EPA
King Vajiravudh and King Prajadhipok were sent to Eton College in England. Prajadhipok also graduated from the Woolwich Military Academy and thus became familiar with British society. This could have explained why he chose to retire in Surrey after his abdication in 1935.
Prince Chakkrabongse Bhuvanath graduated from the Page Corps in St Petersburg, representing King Chulalongkorn at the tsarist court. Prince Mahidol Adulyadej pursued his medical studies in Massachusetts, where the current king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, was born. Bhumibol himself was raised in picturesque Lausanne, attending French-speaking schools and eventually enrolling at the University of Lausanne. But he never graduated.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn was neither academic nor intellectual. King Bhumibol sent his son to private colleges in Great Britain and Australia. Reckoning that a career in the army would suit his personality, Vajiralongkorn undertook military training at the Royal Military College, Duntroon in Canberra. In my interviews with some of his classmates in Australia, they referred to him fondly. Vajiralongkorn still keeps in touch with his old colleagues there and welcomes them with a royal treatment when they visit him in Thailand.
But it is the love of Germany’s Bavaria that ultimately drew Vajiralongkorn back time and again over the years. While the primary reason for Vajiralongkorn making Munich his second home are his regular medical check-ups, the crown prince found the region relatively tranquil and far enough away from the sophisticated atmosphere he normally encounters elsewhere. In particular, withdrawing from maddening crowds provides him privacy.
When King Frederick of Prussia yearned for a private residence where he could strip away royal ceremonies and customs, he ordered the construction of a palace called Sans Souci (Without Worries) in Potsdam, near Berlin, in 1745. At Sans Souci, Frederick was living a secret life in an all-male society away from the public eye, similar to what was seen within the royal court of King Vajiravudh.
Sans Souci lent its idea to Prajadhipok, who built a summer royal residence outside Bangkok in Hua Hin – construction commenced in 1926 and finished in 1933. Prajadhipok called the new palace Klai Kangwon, a Thai translation of Sans Souci.
Vajiralongkorn’s familiarity with Munich was formed during the years he spent with his former consort, Srirasmi, whom he divorced in late 2014. It is also imperative to mention that the Crown Property Bureau has the majority holding in the Kempinski Hotels group and Vajiralongkorn often stayed at the Kempinski Munich, before he purchased an ultra-luxurious mansion at Lake Starnberg for 12 million euros (US$13.2 million).
Named Villa Stolberg, it has a living area of 1400 square metres, houses at least 15 rooms and serves as a main home for his new consort, Major General Suthida Vajiralongkorn, nicknamed Nui, a former Thai Airways crew member, as well as for his son Prince Dipankorn Rasmichoti (from his previous marriage). Located about 30 kilometres southwest of Munich, the villa sits adjacent a beautiful lake.
But Vajiralongkorn’s new mansion is considered much smaller than the one in Lausanne where his father lived during his childhood. Located in Pully, east of Lausanne, Villa Vadhana, named after King Bhumibol’s grandmother, Queen Savang Vadhana, occupied 3200 square metres with a view of Switzerland’s famed Lac Léman. Today, Villa Vadhana no longer exists, having burned down and been dismantled many years ago.
The less sophisticated lifestyle in Bavaria perhaps permits the crown prince to be himself, and to let loose. The latest photos of him wearing a skimpy undersized singlet barely covering massive Yakuza-styled tattoo stickers on his back, chest and arms reinforce this freedom of expression outside the rigidly royal traditions back in Bangkok. Yet, the beauty of the Bavarian scenic landscape refuses to treat his uninhabited lifestyle kindly. He has provided time and again much-sought-after stories to feed the appetite and curiosity of German tabloid readers.
Royal life overseas is never free from intrusions. When Prince Chakkrabong Bhuvanath decided to marry his Kiev-born Ekaterina Ivanovna Desnitsky without the permission of his father, Chulalongkorn, he was compelled to hide his secret from the Russian media and those close to Tsar Nicholas II. He held a private marriage ceremony in Istanbul and left his new wife in Singapore on his journey back to Siam. Chulalongkorn was furious when he discovered that his son brought home a farang wife.
In Lausanne, Princess Mother Sangwal, in the wake of the death of King Ananda in 1946, requested the Swiss police to guard Villa Vadhana 24 hours a day to ensure the safety of the young King Bhumibol. What she did not realise was that the content of the reports from the Swiss police on the family’s daily activities inside the villa revealed many dark secrets she would rather have concealed from the public.
Vajiralongkorn’s presence in Munich today is much more explosive. In 2011, the German court impounded a Boeing 737 aircraft at Munich Airport, which belonged to the crown prince, as compensation for a long-overdue debt of 30 million euros the Thai government owed a now-defunct German construction company for the Don Muang Tollway. The Thai government subsequently agreed to pay a deposit of 20 million euros to bail out the aircraft.
Meanwhile, Vajiralongkorn took steps to prevent his Mercedes-Benz SLK being confiscated after the aircraft was seized, hiding it in a private carpark inside the Munich Kempinski, where it was protected by a dozen bodyguards.
Like his father, Vajiralongkorn loves fast cars. German paparazzi often get snapshots of him driving expensive cars in the Bavarian region. For example, he was once spotted in Erding with a white Porsche 911 Turbo, which costs almost 200,000 euros.
His extravagant and peculiar lifestyle has become a major attraction for the German media. Vajiralongkorn often makes headlines – even on seemingly insignificant stories. For example, the German press once reported a dispute between Vajiralongkorn and a restaurant owner in Germany. Vajiralongkorn made a reservation at the restaurant and the owner, eager to please him, closed the entire place for the privacy of the Thai royalty. But Vajiralongkorn turned up very late and did not order a lot of food, thus upsetting the owner who claimed to have lost a substantial profit that evening.
This week, a widely circulated tabloid paper, Bild, published a set of photos of Vajiralongkorn at the Munich Airport in a bizarre crop tank top with tattoo stickers on his body. A few days later, former Reuters reporter Andrew McGregor Marshall released another photo of the crown prince roaming Munich in a similar tank top with different tattoo prints on his torso. Although Vajiralongkorn is protected by Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, better known as lèse-majesté, these photos were shared widely on social media.
In the age of social media, the private life Vajiralongkorn really wants, as if he were at Sans Souci, is nowhere to be found in Bavaria. In Thailand, many Thais lack opportunities to see the heir apparent going wild, as it is forbidden in Thailand to print news, reports or photos that potentially damage the reputation of the monarchy. But he is in Germany and there can be nothing to stop the German media from publishing his saucy stories and disseminating them through social networks.
At the critical royal transition, royal image-making is vital, even if it is too late for Vajiralongkorn to reinvent himself. It might be true that Vajiralongkorn might care little about his own image in public. The mysterious death of Moh Yong seems to suggest this argument.
But the recent episode revealing the crown prince in shocking dress has caused great anxiety, particularly among royalists who fear that the nation’s next reign will end in disaster. A throne in trouble is trouble for them too.
– New Mandala
Pavin Chachavalpongpun is associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.