Two months ago, the world was introduced to Maj. Gen. Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi — the first Thai consort in nearly 100 years — through a set of more than 60 photos released on the Royal Household Bureau’s website. But these weren’t your average royal portraits: they featured Sineenat in a variety of unusual situations, including wearing a camouflage sports bra in an airplane cockpit, and were so popular that they crashed the website. Now, Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn has stripped Sineenat of both her consort title and military ranks for being “disloyal,” Reuters reports.
In a statement in Thailand’s Royal Gazette on Monday, October 21st, the palace announced that Sineenat was removed from her position because of her disrespectful behavior, including resistance against the king and queen, and abusing her power by giving orders on the king’s behalf, according to BBC News.
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“Royal Noble Consort Sineenat is ungrateful and behaves in ways unbecoming of her title. She is also not content with the title bestowed upon her, doing everything to rise to the level of the queen,” the statement said. “She lacks the understanding of the good traditions of the royal court. She displays disobedience against the king and the queen.”
Prior to becoming a consort, Sineenat, 34, graduated from the Army Nursing College, and completed several military courses, in areas such as jungle warfare, combat, night parachuting, as well as training to be a private pilot, according to her official royal bio.
Though it remains unclear exactly what Sinnenat’s official duties as consort entailed over the past few months, in the Thai monarchy, the term “consort” refers to one type of partner in a historical system that included both queens and consorts in a polygynous relationship with the king. Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté laws, which prohibits discussing the royal family and carries a jail penalty of up to 15 years for each infraction, means that those in the country with additional insight are unable to comment or shed additional light on the situation and specific circumstances surrounding the consort’s dismissal.
According to Tamara Loos, Ph.D., professor of history and Asian studies at Cornell University, “the demotion of Thailand’s Royal Noble Consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi today by King Vajiralongkorn is part of a larger phenomenon: we are witnessing the rise of a modern absolute monarchy in Thailand. This seemingly personal event is profoundly political,” she tells Rolling Stone. “They are related — a piece of the whole.”
King Vajiralongkorn ascended to the throne in late 2016, following the death of his highly revered father, and in that time, has taken several bold steps to arrogate power exclusively to himself, Loos explains. This started in June 2018, when he took control over the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) — the agency responsible for managing the property of the Thai monarchy, and worth about US $30 billion — making him one of the richest royals in the world. Three months prior, King Vajiralongkorn appointed Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol as director-general of the CPB, ousting the Thai finance minister, who had held the post since 1987.
His next major play to assert his power occurred in August 2019, when he revived polygyny — a marital form long dead in Thailand — by appointing Sineenat his Royal Noble Consort, only a few short months after he had married Suthida Tidjai and made her his Queen. Now, less than three months later, Sineenat has been stripped of her titles: likely, another way King Vajiralongkorn is demonstrating his power.
“All of this is possible because of the strictly enforced lèse-majesté laws that forbid criticism of the royal family,” Loos says. “Flaunting his newfound absolutism yet again, the king has just demoted the Royal Noble Consort with the kind of impunity observers have seen before.”
Namely, this dismissal is in line with how King Vajiralongkorn ended his relationships with previous wives. For example, when the then-Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn divorced his third wife, Srirasmi Suwadee, in 2014, he arranged for the imprisonment of her parents and brothers under lèse-majesté laws, and of her uncle for corruption. “Srisasmi was forced to shave her head like a nun and live under house arrest,” Loos explains. “King Vajiralongkorn still has custody of their child, Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, who is currently the heir presumptive.”
The king’s second wife, who he married in 1994 and divorced two years later, fled to Britain with their five children, who were born between 1979 and 1987. According to Loos, only their daughter, HRH Sirivannavari Nariratana, has been allowed to return to Thailand, where she lives with her father. Their four sons are reportedly banished, likely because they, as males, would pose a threat to the throne.
“Whether King Vajiralongkorn takes a woman as his Queen, Royal Noble Consort, or wife, she is powerless to protect herself, her children or her family in the political context of Thailand right now,” Loos says. “Each move of his, whether economic, military or familial, reveals his unfettered abuse of power.”
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