London: Three senior members of Thailand`s powerful privy council, a group of advisers appointed by the king, have made clear their preference for an alternative to Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who is considered a political liability because of his extra-marital affairs in several European countries.
According to diplomatic cables leaked by the whistle blowing web site WikiLeaks, the succession is of pressing concern as King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who turned 83 this month, is in poor health.
Revered by most Thais, he is one of the few unifying figures in a country deeply divided between an urban elite and a rural poor.
The great fear within the authorities is that with the divisive figure of the crown prince as king, any future political turbulence could split Thailand in two. The military and the police rely on loyalty to the crown to maintain control and without it their authority would be greatly weakened, The Guardian reports.
The cable, written by the US ambassador, Eric John, in January, reports on his conversations with General Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the privy council and a former prime minister, Anand Panyarachun, another former prime minister, and Air Chief Marshall Siddhi Savetsila.
"All three had quite negative comments about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn," the cable reads.
"While asserting that the crown prince will become King, both Siddhi and Anand implied the country would be better off if other arrangements could be made. Siddhi expressed preference for Princess Sirindhorn; Anand suggested only the King would be in a position to change succession, and acknowledged a low likelihood of that happening."
There are repeated references to the prince`s affairs. When the US ambassador asked where the prince was, Prem is quoted as saying: "You know his social life, how he is," which John says is a "presumed reference to Vajiralongkorn`s preference to spend time based out of Munich with his main mistress, rather than in Thailand with his wife and son".
John also conveys Siddhi`s observations about the prince`s dalliances. The cable states: "Siddhi, in a similar vein, noted that the Crown Prince frequently slipped away from Thailand, and that information about his air hostess mistresses was widely available on websites; he lamented how his former aide, now Thai ambassador to Germany, was forced to leave Berlin for Munich often to receive Vajiralongkorn."
Apart from their concerns over the prince`s behaviour, the privy council members also express unease over his ties with the fugitive ex-prime minister Thaksin, best known in the UK for owning Manchester City football club from 2007 to 2008. Thaksin spends most of his time in Dubai in self-imposed exile.
This year, Thailand experienced the worst political violence in its modern history. Ninety-one people died as protesters who support Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted as prime minister in a 2006 military coup, called for the dissolution of Parliament and new elections. A state of emergency imposed at the time still remains in force.
Despite their reservations about the crown prince, John`s interlocutors seemed resigned to his becoming king.
"Anand said that he had always believed that the Crown Prince would succeed his father, according to law. However, there could be complicating factors – if Vajiralongkorn proved unable to stay out of politics, or avoid embarrassing financial transactions … The consensus view among many Thai was that the Crown Prince could not stop either, nor would he be able, at age 57, to rectify his behaviour," the cable reads.
The country’s lese majesty laws protect the Thai royal family, making it an offence to insult the monarchy.
Under article 112, anyone can file a complaint against someone they consider to have defamed the monarch. Missing from the code, however, is a definition of what actions constitute defamation or insult. Neither the king nor any member of the royal family has ever filed any charges under this law.
In 2005, King Bhumibol encouraged criticism: "I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know." He later added: "But the king can do wrong."
Since 2005, use of the law has been on the rise, for politicians, journalists and activists.