Vajiralongkorn is a graduate from Australia’s Royal Military College in Canberra and has trained with the U.S., British and Australian armed services…His Western lifestyle is not discussed openly, thanks again to lese majeste. But people have privately asked whether he has the natural authority to unify the nation, especially given his partisanship towards the military. Meanwhile, the king remains convalescing in a heavily guarded Bangkok hospital as the unsaid succession to the throne gets thought about daily.

– Extracted from “Police on guard against anti-king comments”, UPI, 4 November 2009.

It is hardly surprising — given the inevitable international curiosity about Thailand’s succession — that descriptions of this type will continue to appear in newspapers around the world. Such descriptions tend not to be explicitly critical of the royal family, or Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, but they are, I’d suggest, one part of increasingly broad-minded efforts to understand the future of Thai society. These efforts are now coming thick-and-fast; on some days they are starting to dominate discussion of the potential changes that will come with the end of King Bhumibol’s long reign.

Some months ago I put together a tentative list of Fifty-two questions for the study of mainland Southeast Asia. Today I want to draw attention to question 41, “Is Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn really as bad as people make out?”. Well-informed answers to this question will, I’m sure, help journalists, analysts, academics and others to better understand Thailand’s longer-term prospects. Such answers may also help Thais who are interested in the succession to improve their own understanding of the palace, and its key personalities. We haven’t seen the end of newspaper articles that seek to describe (usually in very cautious terms) the potential for an even deeper political crisis. So it makes sense, I reckon, to attempt an answer to one of the questions that is lurking in the background of these commentaries.

Comments and suggestions from readers are very welcome here. You may even want to chance your arm…and offer an answer to the question.