Thailand's beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej has spent much of the last decade fighting illness, prompting concern about his imminent death and his son's succession to the throne. In contrast to the widespread reverence for the king, many Thais feel an equally passionate dislike for the Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. Many Thais have spent their entire lives knowing only King Bhumibol as a leader and are apprehensive about the prince taking over.
Born in 1952, 64-year-old Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is the only son of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit. In 1972, the king conferred a special title on his son, designating him the crown prince and heir to the throne. A career army officer and fighter pilot, the crown prince has been the subject of much speculation regarding his rather eccentric personal life.
Diplomats say the prince is unpredictable, according to the Economist. In contrast to the king's monogamy, the prince married his third wife in 2001. In 2007, a video circulated online of her partially undressed while the two were at a formal dinner. In July, a video posted by the German tabloid Bild posted photos of someone they claimed was the prince donning a skimpy white crop top and covered in fake tattoos while holding a poodle. The poodle, FuFu, is purported to have made more than one appearance sitting among the guests at formal dinners.
The crown prince's unconventional choices are not the only reason for the people's distrust. His close association with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has caused scrutiny, as well. Thaksin was a former telecommunications billionaire who was removed by a political coup in 2006. He's alleged to have given the the crown prince large amounts of money. Thaksin now lives in exile in Dubai but remains in contact with the prince, which doesn't sit well with the people of Thailand.
Although the military is the most powerful force in the Thai political arena, Thais have good reason to be concerned about the future of the throne. The monarchy retains power and legitimacy by endorsing the military's frequent coups of elected government. King Bhumibol reigned through 17 coups throughout his 70 year career. There is widespread fear throughout Thailand that this power in the hands of the crown prince could have a drastically destabilizing effect in an already insecure political system. Many Thais are hoping for a last minute announcement from the ailing king that the crown prince’s sister, Princess Sirindhorn, who enjoys a reputation much like that of her father, will take the throne instead.