A Gilded Thai Palace Rife with Intrigue

Highway officials in the southern Thailand province of Prachuab Khiri Khan have spent the past several days decorating trees and arches in front of the Klai Kangwon Palace in advance of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 87th birthday, to be celebrated on Friday, Dec. 5.

It is unknown if the king will be brought out to see the decorations. Concerns over his health and the looming succession have come to the fore in the past few days with the ouster of Princess Srirasmi, the consort of Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the crown prince and heir, and the announcement that she would be shorn of her royal titles and perquisites. A flood of pictures purporting to be of the deposed princess in varying stages of undress are again making the rounds in an apparent attempt to tarnish her reputation further.

Whatever is going on, it appears to spell bad news for Thaksin Shinawatra, the irrepressible, ousted Prime Minister who was kicked out in a coup in 2006 but who continued to largely run the politics of the country – to the dismay of them Bangkok elites – from his perch in Dubai until a coup ended the political career of his sister, Yingluck, the prime minister in Thailand's last elected government. The belief is that Srirasmi’s departure is somehow related to reports that Vajiralongkorn, after years of being close to Thaksin, has switched sides and given his blessing to the military government that took over the government in a May 22 coup.

Thaksin, a former policeman and later a telecommunications billionaire, has fought for power from outside the country as a fugitive since being sentenced to two years in prison in 2008. He built a power base in the police and also reportedly constructed a palace for Vajiralongkorn in an effort to secure the crown prince’s backing for his political aims. Some of the country’s top policemen, including Pongpat Chayaphan, the head of the deeply corrupt Central Investigation Bureau, have been arrested, coinciding with Srirasmi’s departure.

Despite the most stringent lese-majeste laws on the planet, the sudden departure of the princess, along with the top policemen, has Thailand buzzing. Bhumibol has been on the throne since 1946, making him the world’s longest-serving monarch. As political intrigue and squabbling between the Bangkok elites, the royalty and an increasingly disillusioned wider public have increased, he and his wife, Sirikit, have lost some of their luster.

The conjecture is that the king, frail for many years, may be taking a turn for the worse. But those with connections to the inner circle at the palace say that as his birthday approaches, his condition is stable. He is reported to suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement, and underwent a gall bladder operation in early November. However, according to sources, his mental capacity is not greatly impaired. Over the past two to three years, he has been repeatedly wheeled out to greet the public, usually responding silently with a feeble wave.

In the meantime, virulent palace intrigue has bubbled up against Srirasmi, including the reappearance of an infamous video in which she was filmed, appearing topless for a birthday party for the couple's pet dog in 2001 as servants bowed and scraped, seemingly indifferent to her state of undress. The leaked video went viral on the Internet.

Those intrigues are now finding a huge following in circles in Bangkok. In addition to the video, the sources say, many photos of Srirasmi in various stages of undress and in various degrees of explicitness, either taken by the Crown Prince or someone else, have made the rounds. Some are “Playboy-like, some Penthouse-like, and even some Hustler-like,” a reference to three American men’s magazines of varying degrees of near salaciousness, a source who has seen the pictures told Asia Sentinel.

Srirasmi is detested in royal circles for her background, which has been charitably described as a cocktail hostess or aspiring singer. One source told Asia Sentinel that many in the royal world refuse to prostrate themselves before her, a Thai sign of respect that is necessary for the top royalty.

Apparently unknown forces in the palace, perhaps with ties to the Privy Council, bribed servants to get their hands on the photos. They were circulated widely in the effort to discredit her, making the prince furious. In any case, they were distributed to make sure she was “not suitable for the highest level” as Thailand’s queen, a Bangkok-based source said. “So at this point, she’s damaged goods and he has found better and that’s that – the new one has a son with him and she is younger and hotter.”

In addition, Srirasmi’s son, nine-year-old Dhipangkorn, was diagnosed two years ago with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, making it difficult to put him in the line of succession after the prince, himself 60 and having lived an eventful life, eventually leaves the throne.

Srirasmi’s disappearance is a carbon copy of the banishing of the prince’s second wife, Yuvadhida Polprasert, who like Srirasmi was a commoner with a less than respectable background. She was commissioned as a major in the Royal Thai Army at the prince’s behest and participated in royal ceremonies. Once he had discovered Srirasmi, Yuhadhida was charged with adultery and driven out of Thailand to the UK with their children, who were stripped of their passports and any royal perks, although a daughter was later rehabilitated and now is a princess after having been abducted from the UK at the prince’s behest.

In any case, the decorative work for the birthday anniversary is expected to be completed on Wednesday, after which lighting tests will be conducted to make sure that everything works well in accordance with plan, according to local media. “This year’s motif water drop lighting has been promised to be more beautiful than last year’s with multi-color lightings to illustrate His Majesty the King’s talents in boat sailing, music and in other areas,” according to the reports.