What will become of Thailand’s Crown Prince?

Photo: Amrufm/CC BY 2.0

In the wake of the devastating loss of King Bhumibol, some Thais are reflecting on his firstborn son – and heir apparent’s – ability to rule his father’s nation.

By Rasa Sawari

King Bhumibol of Thailand is revered by most Thais, whatever their personal politics, as the man who unified their nation. And although his first-born son Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is already named as heir to the throne, he has earned nowhere near the same level of affection from the people. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s accession to the throne also brings to light concerns over the future of Thailand’s political landscape, can he bring people together as his father did?

The death of the late King left not only a vacuum of power but a myriad of unanswered questions in the minds of the Thai people, including whether their country should rely on its monarchy in the future. King Bhumibol was the centrepiece of Thailand’s political arena; mitigating and resolving political turmoil or conflict.

However, as his absence sinks in many are questioning if his successor can hold Thailand together to as King Bhumibol did. Perhaps it would be beneficial for to look elsewhere for political legitimacy, and instead rely on its democratic institutions for stability.

Division of wealth 

Moreover, the mourning period has brought attention to the monarchy’s huge wealth; over $30 billion USD, says Forbes. This is made up of numerous companies, real estate holdings and valuable assets. Would this be put to better use for the benefit of the Thai people than lavished on the royal family?

If he acedes the throne then Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn still has to win the hearts and minds of his people. The 64-year old has spent much of his time outside of the country and attracted much attention for his lifestyle. However in recent months and years he has been more visible as the flame to his father’s legacy,  attending public events such as the “Bike for Dad”; an 18 mile bicycle ride through Bangkok last December. However, some speculate that it is too late to change the Crown Prince’s image, and even he himself has stated that “some people like me, some people don’t like me. It’s their right”.

There is also the matter of his unexpected choice to break customary tradition and not immediately claim the throne. Instead he said he needed a period of mourning for his father before taking the seat of power. Consequently, some analysts believe he may doubt his ability to lead the nation at this difficult time. Others mention supposed plans to support his popular sister, Princess Maha Sirindhorn’s claim to the throne in his place.

A calming tone

However, the junta government has dismissed such notions, saying the succession process will begin after 15 days of mourning for King Bhumibol’s passing, on October 27 at the earliest. Prime Minster Prayuth stated “on the matter of succession, in accordance with the constitution, citizens in Thailand and abroad should not be worried or concerned”.

Moreover, Thailand’s Prime Minister has assured the Thai people that the new junta government’s constitution will be recognised by Thailand’s new King, and within the time period specified in the junta government’s charter.

Prime Minister Prayuth also claimed that his government will not deviate from its roadmap to bring democracy back to Thailand. According to him, “nothing has changed …the policies of this government, the laws – including elections – will be according to the roadmap”.

Consequently, in light of the questions surrounding the future of Thailand’s junta government and the accession of the Crown Prince to the throne, Thailand is entering into a period of uncertainty. Thais have lost the man that diligently led their nation through instability and turmoil. Who could ever come to stand in his place?