Axe falls on string of palace aides in Thailand

Portraits of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn (left) and the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej are displayed at a department store in central Bangkok.
Portraits of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn (left) and the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej are displayed at a department store in central Bangkok.PHOTO: REUTERS

King Vajiralongkorn's decisions are being studied for clues on nation's future direction

More than 30 notices related to Thailand's palace staff were made public on the Royal Gazette website last week, providing a rare window into the preferences of newly installed King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The 64-year-old monarch, who was installed in December after the death of his revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is presiding over mourning rites, which are expected to last a year.

The notices, issued on various dates and signed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, also suggest that a shake-up has been taking place among palace staff.

One notice said that King Vajiralongkorn stripped an army major-colonel of his rank last month for "improper manner and behaviour" and "disputing royal observation". In the same notice, the offending major-colonel was also described as "arrogant", "negligent", "insubordinate" and "lazy".

Another commander was similarly stripped of her rank last month because she "did not improve herself, lacked enthusiasm, was idle and lacked correct judgment".

At least four other officers were stripped of their ranks because they had been promoted twice in six months against the rules.

Meanwhile, royal decorations were granted to 25 officers serving in King Vajiralongkorn's royal guard unit, and privy councillor Kampanat Ruddit.

These recent announcements come on the back of very public downfalls of some of the King's senior aides.

Last month, the grand chamberlain in charge of security and special affairs, Jumpol Manmai, was sacked for allegedly committing grave misconduct and having political interests deemed harmful to national security.

He was later sentenced to three years in jail for abusing his authority and having a house which encroached on public land.

Before him, Chitpong Thongkum, an air vice-marshal who had served in the King's bodyguard unit, was fired and stripped of all military ranks for reportedly stealing royal property and disclosing the King's health records.

Thai media reports on these developments are generally restrained because of the country's harsh lese majeste law, which allows for someone to be jailed for up to 15 years on each count of insult or defamation against the King, Queen, heir apparent or regent. Lese majeste defendants are usually denied bail.

But, given the venerated position of one of the world's richest monarchies, King Vajiralongkorn's decisions are scrutinised for clues on the nation's future direction.

The King, whose endorsement is needed to promulgate laws and Constitutions, earlier this year requested changes to a draft Constitution that had already been passed in a referendum last August.

The sections to be amended pertain to his authority, which analysts expect to be bolstered.

In order to facilitate the King's request, the military-installed legislature convened a special session to expedite amendments to the interim Constitution operational now.

Thailand's military government has repeatedly pushed back its projected date for fresh elections after coming into power in a 2014 coup.

On Thursday, deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak said that polls would be held no later than 19 months after the new Constitution is promulgated.

In the meantime, political gatherings remain banned and the government has invited various political factions for talks to find ways out for the politically riven nation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 19, 2017, with the headline 'Axe falls on string of palace aides in Thailand'. Print Edition | Subscribe