Thai leaders doubt suitability of prince to become king
Source: Guardian http://goo.gl/H5uaj 15/12/2010
Thai leaders harbour grave misgivings about the crown prince’s fitness to become king owing to his reputation as a womaniser and links to a fugitive former prime minister, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable.
Three senior members of Thailand‘s powerful privy council, a group of advisers appointed by the king, make clear their preference for an alternative to Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who is considered a political liability because of his extramarital affairs in several European countries.
The succession is of pressing concern as King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who turned 83 this month, is in poor health. Revered by most Thais, he is one of the few unifying figures in a country deeply divided between an urban elite and a rural poor.
The great fear within the authorities is that with the divisive figure of the crown prince as king, any future political turbulence could split Thailand in two. The military and the police rely on loyalty to the crown to maintain control and without it their authority would be greatly weakened.
This year Thailand experienced the worst political violence in its modern history. Ninety-one people died as protesters who support Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted as prime minister in a 2006 military coup, called for the dissolution of parliament and new elections. A state of emergency imposed at the time still remains in force.
The cable, written by the US ambassador, Eric John, in January, reports on his conversations with General Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the privy council and a former prime minister, Anand Panyarachun, another former prime minister, and Air Chief Marshall Siddhi Savetsila.
“All three had quite negative comments about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn,” the cable reads. “While asserting that the crown prince will become King, both Siddhi and Anand implied the country would be better off if other arrangements could be made. Siddhi expressed preference for Princess Sirindhorn; Anand suggested only the King would be in a position to change succession, and acknowledged a low likelihood of that happening.”
There are repeated references to the prince’s affairs. When the US ambassador asked where the prince was, Prem is quoted as saying: “You know his social life, how he is,” which John says is a “presumed reference to Vajiralongkorn’s preference to spend time based out of Munich with his main mistress, rather than in Thailand with his wife and son”.
John also conveys Siddhi’s observations about the prince’s dalliances. The cable states: “Siddhi, in a similar vein, noted that the Crown Prince frequently slipped away from Thailand, and that information about his air hostess mistresses was widely available on websites; he lamented how his former aide, now Thai ambassador to Germany, was forced to leave Berlin for Munich often to receive Vajiralongkorn.”
Apart from their concerns over the prince’s behaviour, the privy council members also express unease over his ties with the fugitive ex-prime minister Thaksin, best known in the UK for owning Manchester City football club from 2007 to 2008. Thaksin spends most of his time in Dubai in self-imposed exile.
“Prem acknowledged Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn probably maintained some sort of relationship with fugitive former PM Thaksin, ‘seeing him from time to time’. Prem, clearly no fan of either man, cautioned that 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.'”
In the cable, Anand blames the king’s poor health partly on Thaksin, who at the time was acting as a political adviser to the Cambodian government. The king was in hospital in January, exercising 30 minutes a day on a stationary bicycle and passing a medicine ball with a physical therapist to build up strength and regain weight.
Despite their reservations about the crown prince, John’s interlocutors seemed resigned to his becoming king.
“Anand said that he had always believed that the Crown Prince would succeed his father, according to law. However, there could be complicating factors – if Vajiralongkorn proved unable to stay out of politics, or avoid embarrassing financial transactions … The consensus view among many Thai was that the Crown Prince could not stop either, nor would he be able, at age 57, to rectify his behaviour,” the cable reads.
“After another pause, Anand added that someone really should raise the matter with the King, before adding with regret that there really was no one who could raise such a delicate topic (note: implied was the need for an alternative to Vajiralongkorn).”
Royal intrigue is also conveyed in another cable by John in October 2008. This confidential message reports on complaints by Samak Sundaravej, a former prime minister, that Queen Sirikit encouraged the coup that overthrew Thaksin.
“He showed disdain for Queen Sirikit,” John writes, “claiming that she had been responsible for the 2006 coup d’etat as well as the ongoing turmoil generated by PAD [People’s Alliance for Democracy] protests. He alleged the Queen operated through privy council president Prem Tinsulanonda who, along with others presenting themselves as royalists, worked with the PAD and other agitators. Citing his own regular meetings with King Bhumibol, Samak claimed he – rather than his opponents – was sincerely loyal to the king and enjoyed the king’s support.”
What constitutes an insult?
The Thai royal family is protected by the country’s lese majesty laws, making it an offence to insult the monarchy.
Under article 112, anyone can file a complaint against someone they consider to have defamed the monarch.
Missing from the code, however, is a definition of what actions constitute defamation or insult. Neither the king nor any member of the royal family has ever filed any charges under this law.
In 2005, King Bhumibol encouraged criticism: “I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know.” He later added: “But the king can do wrong.”
Since 2005, use of the law has been on the rise, for politicians, journalists and activists.
In March 2007, a Swiss, Oliver Jufer, convicted of lese majesty, was sentenced to 10 years for spray-painting graffiti on portraits of the king while drunk. He was pardoned then deported.
In 2008, Jonathan Head, the BBC’s south-east Asia correspondent and vice-president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, was accused of lese majesty by a police colonel, Watanasak Mungkijakarndee. Watanasak said Head’s reporting between 2006 and 2008 had “damaged and insulted the monarchy”. The BBC rejected the charges as groundless.
Also in 2008, Harry Nicolaides, an Australian, was arrested at Bangkok’s international airport and charged with lese majesty, for an offending passage in his self-published book Verismilitude. After pleading guilty, he was jailed for three years. He was deported last year after being pardoned by the king.
In June, the Thai government, which has removed tens of thousands of web pages in recent years for insulting the royal family, approved the creation of an online crime agency that will pursue alleged violators of the lese majesty laws.
• The paragraph referring to Jonathan Head was amended on Thursday 16 December 2010 at 8.49am, removing a reference to him being expelled. The BBC says Head was not expelled but moved on as part of his rotation.
Thai officials worried about crown prince
Source: http://goo.gl/iVVvj 15/12/2010
LONDON (AFP) – Top palace officials in Thailand expressed concerns about the prospect of the crown prince becoming king, a leaked US diplomatic cable showed.
Three influential Thai figures, including two senior advisers to revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, “had quite negative comments about Crown Prince (Maha) Vajiralongkorn,” said the January 2010 memo from the US embassy in Bangkok.
Two of them, while asserting that the crown prince would become king, “implied the country would be better off if other arrangements could be made,” according to the cable, published by British daily The Guardian, which obtained the confidential document from the WikiLeaks whistleblower website.
It cited concerns about his private life and suspected links to fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains hugely popular with many rural poor but is seen by the establishment as corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.
King Bhumibol, the world’s longest reigning monarch, widely revered as a demi-god by many Thais, has been hospitalised since September 2009.
The 83-year-old has no official political role but is seen as a unifying figure in a country that has been frequently riven by political violence, particularly since the 2006 military coup which ousted Thaksin from office.
Any discussion of the royal family is an extremely sensitive topic in Thailand, where the palace has been silent over the organisation of the king’s succession.
Anxiety over the king’s health sent Thailand’s stock market plunging in October 2009.
“On the two most difficult and sensitive issues of the day in Thailand — Thaksin and the monarchy — the Thai elite appear as unsure about the future as any other sector of society,” the cable said.
“The stakes are significant for all sides, and resolution of the political divide and royal succession could still be far over the horizon.”
Just weeks after the memo was sent Thaksin’s red-shirted supporters staged mass opposition protests in Bangkok, sparking violence that left more than 90 people dead in a series of clashes between demonstrators and armed troops.
General Prem Tinsulanonda, a former premier who is head of the privy council of advisers to the palace, was “clearly no fan” of the crown prince, Bhumibol’s only son, the US cable said.
“When Ambassador (Eric John) asked where the Crown Prince was currently, in Thailand or Europe, Prem replied dismissively: ‘You know his social life, how he is’,” it added.
The memo said this was “a presumed reference to Vajiralongkorn’s preference to spend time based out of Munich… rather than in Thailand with his wife and son.”
Prem also said the prince “probably maintained some sort of relationship” with Thaksin, who lives overseas to avoid a prison sentence for corruption and is accused by the Thai authorities of inciting unrest from overseas.
The memo also quoted Siddhi Savetsila, a retired military office and privy council member, who stated that succession “would be a difficult transition time for Thailand.”
It said he “expressed preference” for Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who is widely respected by Thais for her charitable work.
A third influential figure, former premier Anand Panyarachun, “suggested only the King would be in a position to change succession, and acknowledged a low likelihood of that happening,” the cable added.
“Anand added that the consensus view among many Thai was that the Crown Prince could not stop either, nor would he be able, at age 57, to rectify his behavior,” according to the memo.
Source: BBC 17/12/2010 http://goo.gl/K1vS2
Wikileaks cable: ‘Thai concerns about Crown Prince
A leaked US diplomatic cable obtained by the Wikileaks website says three influential figures in Thailand expressed concerns about the prospect of the crown prince becoming king.
Two of those mentioned are senior advisers to the king.
The cable was sent to Washington in January this year by the then American ambassador in Bangkok.
The ailing 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world’s longest-reigning current head of state.
The reverence in which the monarch is held is invariably evident whenever and wherever he appears in public.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is in his late fifties.
The ambassador’s cable quotes alleged conversations with General Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the privy council, and two former prime ministers, Anand Panyarachun and Air Chief Marshall Siddhi Savetsila.
It says all three had quite negative comments about the crown prince and two of them – while asserting that the crown prince will become king – implied that the country would be “better off if other arrangements could be made”.
The cable also cited concerns about the crown prince’s private life.
The ambassador’s conclusion in the cable is that “on the two most difficult and sensitive issues of the day in Thailand – [ousted Prime Minister] Thaksin [Shinawatra] and the monarchy – the Thai elite appear as unsure about the future as any other sector of society”.
He says the stakes are significant for all sides.
Analysts point out that these views are reported in a cable sent at the start of what has been one of the most turbulent years in Thailand’s recent history.
Dr Tim Forsyth, an East Asia expert from the Development Studies Institute at the London School of Economics, told the BBC:
“The Wikileaks cables certainly give the impression that the members of the privy council of Thailand are concerned about the suitability of the crown prince. Of course these cables are unconfirmed and it is very difficult for outside people to comment on it.
“But it does seem to suggest that some of the origins of the political problems in Thailand over the last few years are somehow connected to this worry about what will happen to the monarchy.
Dr Forsyth said some people in Thailand had told him that the 2006 coup which sought to depose Thaksin Shinawatra as prime minister took place partly because they were worried about the relationship between him and members of the royal family.
“This might suggest,” Dr Forsyth said, “that this underlying uncertainty about the royal family might be part of the political problems going on in Thailand over the last few years, such as the riots in Bangkok earlier this year.”
There has been no comment so far from those cited in the leaked US cable, including the crown prince.
Thani Thongpakdi, foreign ministry spokesman, said: “Regarding documents that have been released by Wikileaks in general, Thailand is not in a position to confirm the accuracy or authenticity of such documents because they were not issued by us.
“Additionally many documents seem to be conveying hearsay or gossip which in some circumstances may have been reported out of context. We should therefore not give credence to them.”
Source: Council of Foreign Relations http://goo.gl/LrSKo 16/12/2010
More Reading the Wikileaks Cables: Thailand’s Monarchy
The latest bunch of released Wikileaks cables, online at the Guardian’s archive, offer fascinating insight into Thailand’s opaque monarchy, and should put to rest, once and for all, any idea that the royals stay out of politics except for occasions of national emergency, such as the bloodshed of 1992.
Theoretically, Thailand’s monarchy is “above politics” – the royal institution does not involve itself in political life, and is theoretically a constitutional monarch, like Queen Elizabeth II. Of course, Thais and experienced Thailand watchers know this is not the case; Thailand scholar Duncan McCargo, at Leeds University, coined the term “network monarchy” to explain how the palace influences politics through a network of its supporters and loyalists. But the recent batch of leaked cables show in much more detail how directly the monarchy intervenes in Thai politics, and how much more regularly it intervenes than some Thai observers thought. The royals are hardly saving their powder for occasional instances of dire national emergency. Inone cable, a former Thai prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, tells US officials that Thailand’s Queen Sirikit pushed for the 2006 coup against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and also backed anti-government protests by groups that had demonstrated against Thaksin. In another, senior Thai officials tell American diplomats that Thailand’s king “explicitly told [army commander] Anupong Paojinda not to launch a coup” in 2008, two years after the previous putsch.
Though these cables will be blocked from servers in Thailand, and Bangkok-based newspapers and bloggers will refer to them without referencing the royal family, for fear of being charged with lèse majesté, undoubtedly many Thais will find out about them, just as they have found out about most other stories about the royal family. Of course, Thailand’s government will officially ignore them. But eventually, it will have to address their substance. In yet another cable, senior Thai officials express dismay to the US ambassador at the eventual transition to Thailand’s crown prince, whom they hint is flighty, womanizing, and unsuited to rule. When he finally takes over the palace, if Thailand has not crafted a better way to contain the monarchy’s influence, there could be major trouble.
Source: Reuters 17/12/2010 http://goo.gl/2DxiH
Analysis: Leaked cables shed light on Thai succession risks
By Andrew Marshall
SINGAPORE | Fri Dec 17, 2010 3:36am EST
Reuters) – Confidential U.S. Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks have shed unprecedented light on the biggest political risk faced by investors inThailand — the prospect of a royal succession intensifying social conflict.
Strict lese-majeste laws make it hard for investors to make informed predictions, but the issue of succession looms large at a time of deepening tension in Thailand following the worst political violence in its modern history over April and May.
While 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving monarch, commands supreme moral authority in Thailand, the leaked cables show doubts among key royal advisers about the suitability of his son and heir, 58-year-old Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
General Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the privy council and a former prime minister, Anand Panyarachun, another former prime minister, and privy councilor Siddhi Savetsila all expressed concern about the prince as the likely heir in private conversations, according to a leaked cable written by former U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Eric John.
“All three had quite negative comments about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn,” John wrote in a memo dated January 25, 2010, and posted on the Guardian newspaper’s website on Thursday.
There has been no public comment by those quoted in the leaked cable on whether the comments attributed to them are genuine. “We’re not in a position to comment on the authenticity and accuracy of these documents because they did not originate from us,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdihe.
Although talk of the Thai monarchy’s role and possible problems on the horizon are taboo and illegal, the topic is followed closely in Thailand’s financial markets, which fell briefly last year on concerns over the King’s health.
Siddhi, an Air Chief Marshall, acknowledged that “succession would be a difficult transition time for Thailand,” the U.S. ambassador said in the memo.
“While asserting that the Crown Prince will become King, both Siddhi and Anand implied the country would be better off if other arrangements could be made. Siddhi expressed preference for Princess Sirindhorn,” John wrote.
Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is highly respected by Thais, while there is widespread disapproval of the prince’s lifestyle.
“Anand suggested only the King would be in a position to change succession, and acknowledged a low likelihood of that happening.”
Analysts say privately that there could be a prolonged period of turmoil and even civil unrest if the succession does not go smoothly.
“It’s the big issue, there is no doubt about it, and it comes up often in private discussions with our clients but it is not something to be aired in public,” said a Singapore-based regional analyst at an international investment bank, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Another major bank said in a report that succession worries impose a political risk discount on Thai assets.
Thailand’s financial markets are among the world’s strongest this year. Stock prices are up more than 40 percent and the Thai baht is trading at 13-year highs, making Thailand among several emerging markets vulnerable to a correction.