‘Don Juan’: Mystery behind Thai royal feud
Thailand is in shock after the country’s King abruptly stripped a royal consort of all her rank and titles on Monday, accusing her of trying to undermine the Queen.
It was a dramatic fall from grace for Sineenatra Wongvajirapakdi, who just three months ago became the first woman in almost a century to be given the title of Chao Khun Phra or noble consort.
The public move aired intimate details of the King’s complicated personal life, normally shrouded in secrecy thanks to strict laws in Thailand restricting what can be said about the monarchy. Insulting the monarch can lead to up to 15 years in jail.
It has also echoed his treatment of previous wives, who have been stripped of titles and exiled from public life. Here’s what you need to know about the key players in a right royal drama.
WHO IS KING MAHA VAJIRALONGKORN?
Maha Vajiralongkorn became king after his beloved father Bhumibol Adulyadej died in 2016.
He was an unpopular prince, who famously made his pet miniature poodle Foo Foo an official Air Chief Marshal.
But following his coronation, he quickly made his powerful presence known by beefing up his security with an extra 1,600 police officers, taking full, personal control over the royal trust (estimated to be worth between $30-60 billion), and introducing a new army salute.
Once described by his mother as “a bit of a Don Juan”, Vajiralongkorn has been married and divorced three times.
He married his first wife, Soamsawali Kitiyakara, in 1977 and together they had a daughter.
Then when they divorced in 1991, he married aspiring actor Sujarinee Vivacharawongse, with whom he had five children. They then divorced in 1996 and she was denounced and fled to the United States. The King also disowned the four sons he had with her.
Five years later, he married Srirasmi Suwadee, who gave him a son. But their marriage ended very publicly in 2014 when she was stripped of all her titles and several of her relatives were arrested as part of a police corruption probe. Pictures later circulated of her with a shaven head and her current whereabouts are unknown.
None of his former wives have ever spoken publicly about their situation.
Vajiralongkorn then married his fourth and current wife, Queen Suthida, shortly before his official coronation in May.
WHO IS QUEEN SUTHIDA?
Very little was known about Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya before her marriage to the king.
She was a longtime companion of his who had been in the public eye for three years, but still the wedding came as a surprise.
The 41-year-old former Thai Airways flight attendant reportedly met the king on a flight, then joined the palace guard in 2013 and later became commander of his security unit.
She has a degree in communication arts from Assumption University, a private university in Bangkok.
The couple don’t have any children together.
SO WHO IS SINEENATRA WONGVAJIRAPAKDI?
Sineenatra Wongvajirapakdi, who is known as Koi in Thailand, became a royal consort during the king’s 67th birthday celebrations in July this year — the first person to receive the title since 1921.
Her official biography stated that she was born in 1985 in Northern Thailand’s Nan province.
The 35-year-old is a former army nurse and royal bodyguard, who is also a qualified pilot.
She has a nursing degree and has done a jungle welfare course, combat flying and night parachuting course.
Earlier this year, the palace released a 46-page biography of her life with more than 60 photos of her dressed in camouflage, flying a jet plane and laughing and holding the King’s hand.
But it appears this week she got too big for her boots.
RELATED: Royal noble consort stripped of titles
On Monday, the palace released a two-page statement accusing Koi of refusing to obey the king and seeking to undermine his wife, Queen Suthida.
According to the statement, Koi actively tried to block Suthida’s appointment as Queen and take the position for herself. The King then tried to appease her by giving her the title of royal consort, but she “still wasn’t satisfied” and continued doing everything she could “to be equal to the queen”.
She ordered people around, trying to “gain profit and popularity” and the King’s attention, the palace said.
“(Her actions) are considered dishonourable, lacking gratitude, unappreciative of royal kindness, and driving a rift among the royal servants, making misunderstanding among the people, and undermining the nation and the monarchy.”
Shortly after the swift dismissal, the hashtag #SaveKoi began trending on Twitter, but we’re unlikely to hear much more about the drama.
In Thailand, people can face up to 15 years in prison for insulting the monarchy or defacing images of the monarch and his family. That even includes destroying bank notes bearing the King’s image.