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Thai king reinstates disgraced royal consort

Sineenat WongvajirapakdiImage copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi became the first royal consort in Thailand for almost a century

Thailand’s king has reinstated his royal consort to the position, nearly a year after she was stripped of her titles in a dramatic fall from grace.

King Vajiralongkorn returned Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi’s rank and titles on Wednesday, the Royal Gazette announced.

Sineenat was stripped of her rank in October 2019, only months after being named as the king’s companion.

The palace had said that she was being punished for trying to elevate herself to “the same state as the queen”.

Sineenat was the first royal consort for almost a century in Thailand, where the term refers to a partner in addition to the king’s wife.

Last year’s announcement also accused her of “misbehaviour and disloyalty against the monarch”. She has not been seen in public since and her whereabouts have not been confirmed.

Image copyright
AFP/Getty Images

Image caption

Thailand’s king is married to his fourth wife, Queen Suthida

The king’s latest decision means that “Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi is not tarnished”, the Royal Gazette announced.

“Henceforth, it will be as if she had never been stripped of her military ranks or royal decorations.”

Born in 1985, she is from northern Thailand and worked as a nurse before entering a relationship with the then-crown prince Vajiralongkorn.

She eventually became a bodyguard, pilot and parachutist, and joined the royal guards. In early 2019, she was appointed a major-general.

She received the official title of first Royal Noble Consort in July that year, shortly after the king married his fourth wife Queen Suthida, who had been the deputy head of his personal security detail.

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Media captionLast year Sineenat knelt in front of the king and was anointed as his royal consort

Just a few months later, in October, Sineenat was unexpectedly stripped of her rank and titles, sparking widespread speculation over what might have prompted the sudden downfall.

The true cause of her removal – and her subsequent reinstatement – as royal consort may never be made public, given the secrecy which cloaks palace affairs in Thailand.

Thailand’s lese-majeste law forbids any criticism of the monarchy, with hefty prison sentences for offenders.

The removal of Sineenat in 2019 echoed the cases of two of the king’s former wives. In 1996, he denounced his second wife, who fled to the United States, and disowned four sons he had with her.

In 2014, his third wife Srirasmi Suwadee was similarly stripped of all her titles and banished from the royal court. Her 14-year-old son has been raised by King Vajiralongkorn in Germany and Switzerland.

The king, who now spends most of his time in Germany, has seven children in total.

Queen Suthida, a former flight attendant for Thai Airways, had been seen with him in public for many years, though their relationship had never been officially acknowledged before he married her.

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Media captionThe king is seen pouring sacred water on the head of Queen Suthida

Even after the marriage, his consort Sineenat was a regular guest at royal events until her downfall.

Thai kings throughout the centuries took multiple wives – or consorts. But until 2019, the last time a Thai king had taken an official consort was in the 1920s and the title had not been used since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

Wednesday’s palace announcement comes amid anti-government protests in Thailand, where the military has entrenched its political rule after a 2014 coup. The protests include demands to curb recently-expanded powers of the king and there have been unprecedented calls to reform the monarchy.

The protesters have challenged the king’s decision to declare Crown wealth as his personal property, making him by far the wealthiest person in Thailand. It had until now been notionally held in trust for the benefit of the people.

There have also been questions over King Vajiralongkorn’s decision to take personal command of all military units based in Bangkok – a concentration of military power in royal hands unprecedented in modern Thailand.

The king ascended the throne after the death of his much-loved father Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016. King Bhumibol had ruled for 70 years, making him the longest-reigning monarch in the world at the time of his death.

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