INGRATITUDE, MISBEHAVIOUR and disloyalty. These were among the failings of Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi detailed in a scathing royal statement on October 21st. Apparently the mistress of King Maha Vajiralongkorn wanted to “elevate herself to the same state as the queen”. The former army nurse also dared to issue commands and disobeyed her superiors. She has been stripped of all titles and honours. At one level, Ms Sineenat’s sudden fall from grace is stunning; it was only in July, on the king’s birthday, that he made her Thailand’s first officially recognised royal mistress in almost a century. At another, it is typical. The king has frequent, dramatic romantic bust-ups, with dire consequences for the women concerned.
The designation of a “royal noble consort” shocked Thailand. The elaborate ceremony saw Ms Sineenat prostrate herself before the king and Queen Suthida Tidjai, a former flight attendant whom he married in May. The silk and jewels on display were a far cry from the crop tops and fake tattoos that king and consort had been snapped wearing before. More official photographs of Ms Sineenat in camouflage and in cockpits appeared in August. The website hosting them crashed as curious Thais flocked to it.
Queen Suthida is the king’s fourth wife. He divorced and humiliated his first, a Thai princess who bore him a daughter. He has disowned four of his five children with his second wife, an actress, who fled abroad. And he imprisoned the parents and brothers of his third wife, who has disappeared from sight after he divorced her. Their son remains with his father. These dealings pass without comment in Thailand. The king supposedly sits above politics.
In any case, no one dares to criticise the king’s viciousness or caprice. Successive governments have long fostered public adulation of the monarchy—an easier task under the king’s mild-mannered father, Bhumibol Adulyadej. Since Vajiralongkorn came to the throne three years ago, he has exploited this reverence to demand sweeping formal powers. In 2017 he insisted the constitution be changed to make it easier for him to live abroad (as he does, in Germany) without appointing a regent, even though Thai voters had already approved the text in a referendum. Last year he took personal ownership of the Crown Property Bureau, an agency which has managed royal land and investments for decades. Its holdings are thought to be worth more than $40bn. This month the government issued an emergency decree transferring command of two army units directly to King Vajiralongkorn.
Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté law curbs discussion of these manoeuvres. It promises between three and 15 years in prison for insulting “the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent”. Yet it has not deterred recent grumbling on social media over traffic jams made worse by royal motorcades. Nor did it seem to scare those who wrote about Ms Sineenat’s downfall. The hashtag #SaveKoy began trending, Koy being a nickname for the disgraced mistress. And despite the fulminations of the royal statement, every Thai knows that no one can beat the king himself for ingratitude, misbehaviour and disloyalty.