Fri, Dec 17, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Thai leaders doubt prince fit to be king: WikiLeaks

The Guardian, LONDON

Thai leaders harbor grave misgivings about the crown prince’s fitness to become king owing to his reputation as a womanizer and links to a fugitive former prime minister, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable posted on WikiLeaks.

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 because 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 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 former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 military coup, called for the dissolution of parliament and new elections. A state of emergency imposed at the time 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, former Thai prime minister Anand Panyarachun 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.

“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 Web sites; he lamented how his former aide, now Thai ambassador to Germany, was forced to leave Berlin for Munich often to receive Vajiralongkorn,” he writes.

Apart from their concerns over the prince’s behavior, the privy council members also express unease over his ties with the fugitive Thaksin, best known in the UK for owning Manchester City soccer 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,’” the cable says.

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