Why is there no president in Thailand?

Thailand's king a "disaster" in the corona crisis

The coronavirus has brought life to a standstill in Thailand as well. The streets in Bangkok are deserted, at Suvarnabhumi Airport, otherwise a hub of international tourism, only a fraction of the usual passengers arrive. The important tourism industry, which contributed around a fifth to Thailand's gross domestic product in 2018, is on the ground. In a crisis like this, people expect solidarity and encouragement from their head of state, such as Queen Elizabeth II gave to the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in a high-profile speech.

But Thailand's King Rama X. Maha Vajiralongkorn has only returned to his kingdom for short stays since the outbreak of the crisis. He spends most of his time in Germany. He lives with a special permit in the Hotel Sonnenbichl in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The competent district office justifies the special permit as follows: "The guests are a single homogeneous group of people with no fluctuation. The hotel is not accessible for normal accommodation."

Thailand's king with his lover

Authoritarian monarch

The king is accompanied by an entourage of around 100, including a harem of at least 20 women. At the end of March, according to research by the newspaper "Bild", he organized walks through Germany. He is said to have flown to Hanover, Leipzig and Dresden with his Boeing 737-800. However, his Majesty did not get out, but started again immediately after touching down. Just for fun, to further qualify as a pilot.

The king remains true to himself with his eccentric behavior. He succeeded his father on the throne on October 13, 2016. The magnificent coronation ceremony took place a year ago from May 4th to 6th. But instead of following in the footsteps of his father, who is admired by many Thais, the scandals are not ending.

"The king's behavior is a disaster for the reputation of the Thai monarchy," says journalist and activist Andrew MacGregor Marshall. When asked what would describe Thailand's head of state in one sentence, Marshall replied: "A disturbed, sadistic and authoritarian monarch who should have no place in the 21st century."

Criticism is getting louder

As openly as the author of the book "A Kingdom in Crisis", which is banned in Thailand, no Thai is allowed to express criticism, because the royal family is protected from any criticism by a draconian libel law. Violations can be punished with up to 15 years imprisonment. There have been several cases in the past where Thai people were jailed for several years for sharing a Facebook post. Nevertheless, besides private conversations, social media is the only source to find out how young Thais in particular view the monarchy.

Despite the risks for users, a tweet by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul made the rounds at the end of March, showing the flight route of the royal Boeing to Germany and asking in Thai: "What do we need a king for?" In a very short time it was shared a thousand times and led the trends in Thailand.

For a long time now, memes from the HBO series "Game of Thrones" have been shared on social networks, in which it says: "We don't serve some sh *** king who is only king because his father was king."

Overthrow of the king?

A small part of the users expanded the criticism, which was mainly aimed at Rama X., to include the monarchy as a whole. For example, a user on Facebook wrote: "I am happy to see the king questioned on Twitter. But we have to go beyond the insults. I want people to read up and understand why there is a king why it was considered very important and why it seems redundant at the moment. "

Some users even went so far as to implicitly demand the abolition of the monarchy: "To be honest, I wish we already had a president."

However, the criticism of the monarch and royal family is mainly limited to the younger generation, as a Thai expert confirmed to DW, who does not want to be named for security reasons. Thais over 30, the Rama IX. still actively experienced, stuck to the institution, even if they secretly disapproved of the successor.

Military and royal family

The Thai royal family is silent about the Shitstorm. But on March 22, 2020, Puttipong Punnakanta, who sits in the cabinet as minister for digital and society, tweeted a threat. It is dangerous to post content that could endanger national security. The accompanying picture spoke a clear language:

Obviously, the government that emerged from a military coup in 2014 is protecting the current king. The reason is a mutual dependence between the monarchy and the military. The unloved ruler needs the military and its government to secure his power. The military relies on the king because it is easier to come to terms with a monarch who ruled for life than with changing politicians and parties in a democratic system.

Supporters of the monarchy in the hairdressing salon

The unbroken power of the king

Because of the support from the government and the military, the Thailand expert Marshall does not believe that the growing displeasure will result in concrete steps against the monarchy. Vajiralongkorn has successfully changed the kingdom towards an absolute monarchy since taking office, although Thailand is officially a constitutional monarchy, according to Marshall. To this end, he built an elite unit of soldiers and police officers under his direct control. He brought under his direct control the property of the royal family, formerly administered by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB). According to estimates, at least 30 to 60 billion US dollars (27.6 to 55.2 billion euros).

Marshall says, "It is clear that the king does not have the support of the majority of Thais. But it will be very difficult to challenge his power as he is in control of the military." A riot would lead to bloodshed in Bangkok, according to Marshall. The second interviewee of DW is not sure about the majority of Thais. He believes that a majority of the younger Thais view the king and monarchy critically, but not necessarily a majority of the population. This criticism will probably only lead to concrete politics and a weakening of the monarchy after a generation change.