Last week saw the Thai king’s mistress crawling towards the monarch’s feet like a snail to be named as a key adviser.
Thailand’s king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, has made his lover a royal consort in an unorthodox ceremony attended by his new wife.
No modern Thai monarch has publicly admitted to having a mistress.
Vajiralongkorn’s complete lack of shame contrasts with Thai norms of discretion and self-control.
He is regarded as immoral and vindictive by large sections of Thai society but open criticism is punishable with lengthy jail terms.
The 34-year-old Sineenat is one of the king’s former bodyguards, the Ratchawallop Police Retainers, and has been named Rama X’s “royal noble consort” during his birthday celebrations.
The major-general was also awarded four medals, including the “most noble order of the crown of Thailand” and the “most exalted order of the white elephant, special class”.
Queen Suthida, 41, sat beside King Rama X during the televised service.
Suthida, a former Thai Airways stewardess, who had been his mistress for several years, married the king earlier this year.
But Thai discussion of royal issues is heavily restricted.
Thai lèse-majesté laws carry a maximum jail term of 15 years for any royal insult. The archaic legislation is commonly used to jail government critics and ensure self-censorship across the increasingly feeble Thai media.
Thailand has only one remaining English-language newspaper, the Bangkok Post, since The Nation closed last month. The Post never raises any questions about the behaviour of the monarch.
A recent story was grovelingly headlined “Thailand’s revered King is majestic in sports”, before referring to him as a “fine athlete”.
The piece is devoid of any news value and is just a list of cringe-worthy attempts to win royal favour.
“His Majesty’s support for cycling as a competition began in 2000 when he graciously donated trophies for the 18 overall winners in the Thailand Championship series,” the paper writes. The superfluous adverb “graciously” is almost always used in Thai royal stories.
There was no reference to the king’s well-documented bike rides in Germany wearing a crop top and stick-on tattoos.
It is, therefore, unsurprising that last week’s appointment was reported without comment inside the kingdom.
Vajiralongkorn spends much of his time with his mistress at the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in the German resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Suthida, meanwhile, reportedly spends most of her time alone at the Hotel Waldegg in Engelberg in Switzerland.
The behaviour of the monarch – seen as the divine embodiment of Gautama Buddha – contrasts sharply with most visitor’s experiences of Thai culture.
The softly spoken, dignified nation is now led by a cruel clown, who appears to have no reticence about his repeated public humiliations.
Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a veteran observer of the Thai monarchy, told the BBC World Service that the situation was becoming increasingly unsustainable.
As details of the king’s lifestyle spread, Thailand was approaching a “crisis point”, the journalist argued.
“The current king is notoriously spendthrift. He has three 747s, for example, that he flies around regularly. He’s got two villas in Munich where he spends most of his time.
“He goes on these notorious shopping sprees around Europe. He once ordered a Thai take away from Stratford-upon-Avon [in England] when he was in Bangkok and Thai Airways had to fly it all the way there.”
Educated at Millfield, a Somerset boarding school, a fellow dormer, the journalist Rupert Christiansen, described the future king as “a vile bully”.
Vajiralongkorn’s treatment of his wives and children has undermined attempts to boost his image as the father of the nation.
His second wife, Princess Sujarinee, was allegedly forced into exile in the US with their daughter. Sujarinee’s friends were also persecuted and relatives were followed by private detectives.
When he was crown prince, Vajiralongkorn had his now deceased white poodle, Fufu, named as an air chief marshal.
The king’s third wife, Srirasmi – who was famously filmed celebrating Fufu’s birthday in a G-string – married Vajiralongkorn in 2001.
Srirasmi was also filmed on her knees eating from a dog bowl in the same video.
But the couple fell out in 2014 and eight members of her family were arrested. She was also separated from her nine-year-old son, Prince Dipangkorn, the apparent heir to the throne. Her aged parents were sentenced to 2½ years in jail.
Thais are not allowed to discuss their monarchy or ask for an independent audit into royal assets.
Meanwhile, the electorate was promised a return to democracy and were finally allowed to vote in a much-delayed general election in March. However, a rigged voting system and opaque election counting enabled the military, which seized power in a 2014 coup, to seamlessly transition into a civilian government under the fig leaf of democracy.
Thai culture does not generally foster violent revolutions. But when crushed into silence by a junta of army officers and a spoilt king completely unworthy of the being head of state, dissatisfaction may boil over into direct action.
The walls of the royal palace may not be high enough to defend Vajiralongkorn from a mob if Thailand experiences a serious economic downturn.
Enchanting Thailand deserves better leadership. Picture credit: Asean Economist