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King “Don Juan”

The new Thai ruler has a colorful past

Thailand’s new king makes his first public appearance

The newly crowned king of Thailand on Friday made his first public appearance since ascending to the throne after the death of his father, the much-loved King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The 64-year-old King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (the name means “adorned with jewels or thunderbolts”) appeared at Bangkok’s Grand Palace 50 days after his father died. The occasion, broadcast on national TV, was the first time many Thais had seen the new king, as many details about his life remain relatively private, at least to locals — the king’s lavish and extravagant lifestyle has been widely reported outside the country.

Inside Thailand, the strict lèse-majesté laws prevent citizens from openly discussing any details of the new king’s life. Anyone convicted of such crimes could face up to 15 years in prison.

Here’s what you need to know about the new Thai king:

Early life

Born in 1952, the new king was initially educated at the palace, where he admits to being pampered. This led to problems keeping up with his peers when he was sent away to school. From the age of 13, the new ruler attended two schools in the U.K. before spending a year in Sydney, Australia.

After high school, the new king spent the next four years at the Royal Military College in Canberra.

He continued his military training in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and in his homeland, where he became an officer in the Thai armed forces. He is a trained pilot, and when traveling abroad he often flies his own Boeing 737 jet.

Reputation

While speculation about the lifestyle of the new king has been banned within Thailand, that has not stopped those outside the country from monitoring his extravagances. “The crown prince has for decades acquired a reputation as an alleged hothead, womanizer, and poor decision-maker,” Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank, said in 2014.

These are some of the incidents Kurlantzick documented:

  • Using his own planes to block a visiting Japanese prime minister in Bangkok in a fit of pique
  • Throwing a lavish birthday party for his pet poodle Foo Foo (who he famously appointed to the rank of Air Chief Marshall), at which his wife appeared topless, as shown in a leaked video
  • Storming home early from a visit to Japan after a series of minor protocol slights by Thailand’s most important investor

Marriage and children

The new king is well known (outside of Thailand, at least) as a womanizer, and his marriage record seems to back that up. His own mother, speaking in 1981, even described him as “a bit of a Don Juan.”

Married and divorced three times, the new king has a total of seven children, but he has disowned four of his sons and one daughter.

He was first married in 1977 to his cousin Princess Soamsawali. His first daughter – Princess Bajarakitiyabha – was born a year later. By then he was already in a relationship with Yuvadhida Polpraserth, an aspiring actress, and over the next eight years he had five children with her. He finally divorced Princess Soamsawali in 1993, marrying his mistress a year later.

However, the marriage lasted just a couple years, and in 1997 he severed all ties with her and banished her and all five children from Thailand. They currently live in the U.S.

In 2001 he married his third wife, Srirasmi, with whom he had another son, Prince Dipangkorn, in 2005. In 2014 Srirasmi was stripped of her royal title and nine of her relatives were arrested for lèse-majesté on charges that they had abused their connections with the Crown Prince.

The new king is currently reported to be in a relationship with a former Thai Airways flight attendant, whom he has appointed as commander of his household guard.

Power

Despite the fact that the new king is only a constitutional monarch, he still wields astonishing power. His father amassed vast wealth, estimated at $30 billion-$40 billion, and the palace brings in about $300 million in untaxed income every year. The king also has command of his own personal regiment of the Royal Guard, which has about 5,000 troops.

Despite reports about his raucous lifestyle, the fact he has now accepted the crown guarantees some stability, at least. “Forget about ‘Game of Thrones’ intrigue. With a new constitution in place and the royal succession behind, the conditions for institutional stability are in place,” Tim Condon, chief economist for Asia at ING in Singapore, said. “We blame its absence since 2013 for the dismal economic performance and we consider its return an important turning point.”

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