The Crown Prince of Thailand is no more. Now that his father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has died, Maha Vajiralongkorn is about to be king.
Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced Thursday that Vajiralongkorn will take over for the late Bhumibol as head monarch, the Associated Press reported. The decision is sure to divide Thais, who will likely be not only mourning the loss of their beloved king but also warily eyeing his controversial successor.
"In a society that attaches celestial importance to the throne and largely views the monarchy as a force preserving Thai culture and values, the prince is thus seen as exceedingly unfit for kingship," Strategic Forecasting, Inc. wrote in a 2015 analysis of the political situation.
International media outlets frequently refer to Vajiralongkorn, 64, as a playboy with a penchant for partying. The pilot has been married at least three times, and his previous relationships have been dramatic. For example: During his first marriage, Vajiralongkorn had five kids with a mistress — who would later become his second wife and, after the breakup, leave the country with the couple's daughter. Vajiralongkorn abducted the princess and took her back, according to the Daily Beast.
His most recent divorce was in 2014, and he reportedly has plans to marry a former Thai Airways flight attendant, according to the Guardian. She's rumored to live in Munich, where Vajiralongkorn was photographed earlier this year wearing jeans, a tank top and temporary tattoos.
Vajiralongkorn's political history is storied. The only son of Bhumibol and his wife, Vajiralongkorn went to school in England and Australia before serving in the Royal Thai Armed Forces, according to his bio on the Royal Thai Embassy in Singapore. He created a chain of hospitals and has long worked with Thai farmers to improve agriculture.
But he also has ties to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire living in exile amid allegations of corruption. Some fear that Vajiralongkorn's relationship with Thaksin could mean the new king would adopt some of the tycoon's stances, the Diplomat reported.
Residents and pundits have long speculated about Bhumibol's succession plan but were not able to fully discuss it due to lèse-majesté laws that threaten critics of the royal family. Long story short: One way or another, Vajiralongkorn will likely be a shakeup for Thailand.
"Unlike the revered King Bhumibol, Vajiralongkorn is widely disliked by the general public — and hated by those who know him," expert Jonathan Manthorpe wrote in an iPolitics column earlier this year. "The palace and its loyalists among Thailand’s class-conscious elite fear that if Vajiralongkorn comes to the throne, he will usher in a period of revolutionary upheaval that could destroy the structure of Thai society."