Wed, Oct 19, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Thailand’s next king lives in revered father’s shadow

He attends the requisite ceremonies, but the prince is generally a private figure, visibly ill at ease in most public settings, whose activities are usually unpublicized

AP

Thailand’s next king, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, carries a son’s burden of living up to a great father.

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on Thursday last week at the age of 88, reigned for 70 years with almost legendary rectitude and devotion to his country’s development.

However, the 64-year-old Vajiralongkorn, the second child and only son of Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit is dogged by a reputation that some fear could weaken respect for the monarchy.

Bhumibol designated Vajiralongkorn to be his successor more than 40 years ago. There were other possible candidates for succession — including his older sister — and there had been speculation one might be chosen.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha put such talk to rest on Thursday last week when he said, without specifically naming the crown prince, that the king had designated his successor on Dec. 28, 1972.

“We the government must proceed with the next steps in accordance with the law,” he said.

The public at large has long traded rumors about Vajiralongkorn’s finances, hot temper and other matters. Three stormy marriages are a matter of public record.

“When you are born into this position you have to accept it,” he told the women’s magazine Dichan in a rare interview in 1987. “Some people like me, some people don’t like me. It’s their right... Wherever you go there is gossip. If you are busy with gossip you don’t have to work.”

Although he attends the requisite royal ceremonies and in recent years filled in for his father for some ceremonial and diplomatic duties, the prince is generally a private figure, visibly ill at ease in most public settings.

His three sisters and first wife often appear on the nightly television broadcasts of royal news, attending social functions and carrying out good works that burnish the monarchy’s reputation.

Vajiralongkorn’s appearances are less frequent. While all the siblings travel abroad frequently, his sisters are usually promoting their homeland in one manner or another. The prince’s activities are usually personal and unpublicized, outside of the occasional tabloid story in the country he is visiting.

However, last year he made two high-profile public appearances in Thailand, leading thousands of people in mass bicycling events to mark the birthdays of his mother and his father. Many saw the events as an attempt to raise his profile in preparation for his eventual installation as king.

Some analysts have likened Vajiralongkorn’s situation to that of Britain’s Prince Charles, forced to tread water while Queen Elizabeth reigns for a seventh decade.

A crucial difference is that while Charles and his family can be held to public account, particularly by the media, Thailand’s royal family is protected by an Asian tradition of reverence as well as harsh laws that mandate a prison term of three to 15 years for anyone found guilty of the loosely defined crime of insulting the monarchy.

Born on July 28, 1952, the prince was accorded the kind of smothering attention one would expect from growing up in a palace — in later life he told an interviewer that even at the age of 12 he was unable to tie his own shoes because courtiers had always done it for him.

“My parents tried to raise me normally, but around us there were too many people trying to gain favor,” he told Dichan.

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