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

Efforts to prepare the prince for the throne began in earnest in his early teens.

He was commissioned as an officer in the three branches of Thailand’s armed forces and by age 14 was sent to boarding school in England.

He continued his studies at a school in Sydney in preparation for Australia’s Royal Military College at Duntroon, which he entered in 1972 and graduated from in 1975, shortly after Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam fell to communist forces.

The prince took part in some military actions against Thailand’s homegrown communist insurgency, but began facing greater challenges on the personal front. In 1977, reportedly bowing to his mother’s wishes, he married a maternal first cousin, Soamsawali Kitiyakara.

Their daughter, Princess Bajrakitiyabha, was born in 1978, even as the marriage was falling apart. When just nine months later the prince had a son by Yuvadhida Polpraserth, a commoner who was to become his second wife, it was clear that Vajiralongkorn felt free to steer his own course socially, regardless of royal propriety.

His own mother alluded to his reputation with women, telling reporters in 1982 when she traveled to the US: “My son the crown prince is a little bit of a Don Juan. He is a good student, a good boy, but women find him interesting and he finds women even more interesting.”

Speaking at a news conference in Dallas, but clearly addressing her son, she delivered a harsh warning.

“If the people of Thailand do not approve of the behavior of my son, then he would either have to change his behavior or resign from the royal family,” she said.

Palace elders tried to encourage Vajiralongkorn’s enthusiasm for military duties with training stints abroad. A 1980 course of advanced military training in the US whetted his appetite for flying, a passion carried on to this day, sometimes in the wide-bodied jets of national carrier Thai Airways.

Critics said his pastime was expensive, citing for example, a US$20 million F-16 jet the military presented to him in 1992 for his personal use.

Unsavory rumors continued to follow him. In 1992, he said his reputation was “upsetting” to him, especially because he felt unable to defend himself because of his royal position.

Speaking to reporters specially invited to his residence, he denied some long-standing rumors: That he owned nightclubs and discotheques that were profiting by flouting legal closing hours because of links to him, that he was a godfather of various financial scams, that he rigged the national lottery.

“The money I spend is acquired honestly. I don’t want to touch money earned illegally and through the suffering of others,” he told them.

Over time, some of the more outrageous allegations have faded. However, the rumor mill has continued to feed on his personal life. All five of the children with the woman who became his second wife were born years before he was divorced from his first spouse.

After winning grudging acceptance from the palace to treat his second wife as a royal, they had a spectacular bust-up in 1996 which saw her flee to England with their four sons and one daughter. The prince then flew there to grab his daughter back.

In 2001, he married another commoner, Srirasmi Koet-amphaeng, with whom he had a son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, in 2005. The prince then had the royal status of his sons by his second wife withdrawn.

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