On the heels of her family’s swift fall from grace, the third wife of Thailand’s Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has resigned from her royal status.
There is no official report of a divorce yet, but in effect the couple’s 13-year marriage appears to have ended, leaving the question of who will be the country’s next Queen.
A royal gazette announcement dated last Thursday and released late on Friday said: “The King has granted permission to announce that Princess Srirasmi, the wife of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, has informed in a written document that she has resigned from her royal status.”
The status of the couple’s nine-year-old son, Prince Dipangkorn, the presumed heir to the throne after his father, is unclear. Reports on Thai social media that could not be verified said he flew to Germany on Friday night and included an image of a Thai Airways ticket with his name.
Speculation on the fate of now former princess Srirasmi has been intense in recent weeks after at least seven of her relatives were accused of corruption on a grand scale.
The chief suspect in the probe, which sent shock waves through the police force and set tongues wagging, is former Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chayapan, an uncle of the former princess.
Pongpat, who ruled the roost at the bureau for years and was regarded as “untouchable”, has also been accused of defaming the monarchy, which attracts a jail sentence of up to 15 years. Reports say Pongpat and his “gang” are accused of leveraging on their connections with the Royal Palace.
Late last month, Prince Vajiralongkorn stripped his wife’s family of its royally bestowed surname Akharapongpreecha, which was granted when they got married in 2001.
In an e-mail, Associate Professor Pavin Chachavalpongpun at Kyoto University’s Centre for South-east Asian Studies called it “a significant royal divorce”.
“I see it as a part of preparation for the Crown Prince to be the next king,” he said.
But he added: “It will directly affect the royal succession. We will now have to deal with a new queen of Thailand. The crisis will not only rest on the current generation, but will also last into the next generation.”
Public discussion about the monarchy and royal family is severely curtailed by the lese majeste law. But in private, there is anxiety over the looming succession and the prospect that the monarchy will lose the unrivalled moral authority wielded by the near-venerated King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
On his 87th birthday last Friday, the frail King cancelled a scheduled public appearance on his doctors’ advice. He had an operation to remove his gall bladder in October and remains in Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital.
“At a time when the question of democracy and the monarchy’s role in it is a point of controversy in Thailand, this scandal couldn’t be worse-timed,” said David Streckfuss, a Thailand-based academic and author of the 2010 book, Truth On Trial In Thailand: Defamation, Treason, And Lèse-Majesté.
“It can’t help but lower the prestige of the institution.”