Vajiralongkorn and Sirindhorn

On 30 April 2013, Willem-Alexander was sworn in as King of the Netherlands following the abdication of Queen Beatrix, his mother. Members of the Thai royal family were among many dignitaries attending the extravagant coronation ceremony.

Both Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn were appointed to represent the Thai royal family at the Dutch function. It was quite an unusual scene to see the Crown Prince and the Princess at the same event, particularly an event that was organised overseas.

The appearance of the heir apparent and his more popular sister has raised a myriad of interesting questions about whether an arrangement has been made within the walls of the royal palace regarding the royal succession. True, according to the succession law, Vajiralongkorn will be enthroned. But in reality, most Thais know that the royal transition is far from guaranteed to be a smooth process. Thus, speculation has long grown about whether the throne would be passed to the Princess in order to save the monarchy from falling into irrelevance.

The most likely arrangement would be to allow the Crown Prince to become the next King. With the lack of moral authority, the new King would then need a “legitimacy support” from his well-accepted sister, Sirindhorn, to strengthen the power position of the Thai monarchy. This arrangement will also kill the rumour of the existence of rivalry between the Vajiralongkorn and Sirindhorn camps, as suggested in one of the WikiLeaks cables.

For the first time in decades, the Thais will soon witness the historic royal transition. In 1946, the assassination of King Ananda (Rama VIII) prevented the normal succession process. In many ways, the long interval of such an important event has kept Thais even more anxious and nervous about how the transition will transpire. The involvement in politics of the monarchy will not make the royal transition an easy affair. The role of the military, as defender of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (not as defender of the monarchy), will be essential in the approval of the new King.

But with Sirindhorn walking side by side with her brother Vajiralongkorn in Amsterdam, it seems to indicate that the military may have already shifted its view vis-├а-vis the heir apparent. Princess Sirindhorn is known to have forged closed ties with the military; she has been teaching at the Chulachomklao Military Academy for years.

Could we say that what we saw in the Netherlands was a positive outcome of a royal power arrangement? Would this also suggest that the palace takes the old Thai proverb seriously: р╕гр╕зр╕бр╕Бр╕▒р╕Щр╣Ар╕гр╕▓р╕нр╕вр╕╣р╣И р╣Бр╕вр╕Бр╕лр╕бр╕╣р╣Ир╣Ар╕гр╕▓р╕Хр╕▓р╕в (United we stand, Divided we fall)?

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an Associate Professor at Kyoto University