For an entire year, civil servants in Thailand will wear black clothing to pay their respects, following the death of their longest-reigning monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Prince Maha Vajiralongkor, next in line to take the throne, has, however, been painted as a colourful character, as controversy around his credibility surfaces.
Labelled a conservative nation by its Western counterparts, Thailand was named the top millenial travel destination in Asia in 2016. The 64-year-old Prince and the preceding monarch could be compared to this contrast in ideology, as a new world is ushered in, while the old is laid to rest. As state-run banks plan to donate 8 million black T-shirts to low-income citizens, the Prince’s own fashion sense has been called into question, following his crop-top ensemble at Munich airport earlier this year. Reports have stated that he has asked that his crowning be postponed to allow him more time to mourn, raising concerns as to whether he wants to lead, and as a result, leaving the Constitutional Monarch’s and ruling junta’s state of affairs in limbo.
Despite his multiple military titles and pilot’s licences, the Prince, a former scholar at the Royal Military College (Duntroon) in Australia, has over the years shown little interest in succeeding his father well into his 60’s. With a public history of cruelty, multiple unsuccessful marriages, children living in exile and an excessive lifestyle that even extended to four days of mourning and Bhuddist rights to his deceased dog, Foo Foo. With it being a criminal act to defame, or make unflattering public statements about the king, queen or soon-to-be heir, according to the lèse-majesté law, more details of the Prince’s lifestyle are slowly surfacing, igniting the concerns of conservative subjects and elites. Thai Prime Minister from 1991-1992, Anand Panyarachum has in the past expressed his doubts about the Prince ever being able to “rectify his behaviour”.
Thai officials had also once hoped that revered Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn be made heir, but the late king had declared that Vajiralongkor would succeed him, despite a change to the Thai constitution in 1974 to allow a female to rule. The Princess, a UN Special Ambassador of the World Food Programme for School Feeding, has dedicated much of her life to working with her late father’s initiatives and has close ties to the ruling junta.
What would this mean for the tourism sector? Thailand’s tourist boards have insisted that the country’s tourism operations are still running, despite news of tourists complaining of being inconvenienced by the mourning period. With an extensive number of international brands and companies, tropical weather and an emerging market, Thailand remains a popular tourist destination and October is the start of its peak season. Chris Lee from the Tourism Authority of Thailand reassured visitors: “There has been some incorrect reporting and we would like to clarify the situation. Our tourism activity will not be affected. We will just show sensitivity.”