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Thailand's ousted 'royal consort' had swift rise and fall

Thailand's ousted 'royal consort' had swift rise and fall
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By Kay Johnson and Panu Wongcha-um

BANGKOK (Reuters) – When Thailand’s newly crowned King Maha Vajiralongkorn named one of his bodyguards as Noble Royal Consort on his birthday in July, no one had held the title for nearly a century, dating back to the days of absolute monarchy.

Later, the palace released a series of photos of 34-year-old consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, a former nurse, variously showing her in the cockpit of a fighter jet, wearing a crop top and dressed in combat fatigues with the king and the royal poodle.

Such laudatory images previously had been reserved for the king’s close relatives – and they resembled the military-style photos of the king’s wife, Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana, on her birthday in June.

But Sineenat’s swift rise to the public eye was followed by a sudden and brutal fall on Monday.

King Vajiralongkorn, 67, stripped her of her titles in an order calling her “disloyal”, “ungrateful” and “ambitious”.

All images of her disappeared from the palace website. An unverified Instagram account in her name was shut down overnight.

It was not immediately clear exactly what prompted the dismissal of Sineenat, whose whereabouts on Tuesday were not known.

The announcement came days after the palace abruptly postponed a Royal Barge Procession scheduled for Thursday. The event caps year-long celebrations of King Vajiralongkorn’s coronation after he took the throne following the 2016 death of his father.

Monday’s palace statement hinted the downfall involved a rivalry with Queen Suthida, 41, whom the thrice-divorced king married on May 1 just days before he was formally crowned.

“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 palace said in its statement.

The public disgrace of a royal consort is uncharted territory in Thailand, where reverence of the monarchy is deeply ingrained and strict lese majeste laws forbid criticising the royal family, with insults punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

QUEENANDCONSORT

Both the queen and Sineenat had been granted military titles by King Vajiralongkorn in his personal bodyguard unit over several years. Their personal relationships with the king were only confirmed with palace announcements this year.

What little is known about Sineenat come from the royal biography that has now been scrubbed from the palace website.

It had said she was from Nan province in northern Thailand. She studied nursing at a military college, graduated in 2008 and worked in hospitals until she formally entered royal service for the then-Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn in 2012.

She became a royal guard in 2015 with the rank of major in the Royal Thai Army. She was named a colonel and granted a command of a battalion in 2018. Shortly before the coronation, she was promoted to major general.

Since taking the throne, King Vajiralongkorn has proved to be an assertive constitutional monarch, taking more direct control of the crown’s vast wealth and transferring two military units to his personal control.

He also reintroduced the “Ratchasawat”, a basic code of conduct for those in royal service rooted in the old absolutist court.

While he was crown prince, he was married and divorced three times, with at least two of his unions ending with public signs of acrimony.

In 1996, he announced his divorce from his second wife, Sujarinee Vivacharawongse, by putting up posters around his palace. A photo of one poster shows it ordered her banished for adultery, abusing her daughter and fraud. She and her four sons fled the country and live in the United States.

His third wife, former lady-in-waiting Srirasmi Suwadee, has lived in seclusion outside Bangkok since her divorce in 2014 after the arrest of several of her relatives accused of making false claims of having links to the monarchy for financial gain.

Her uncle, parents and three brothers were later convicted of lese majeste and remain in prison.

One of the last messages on the Instagram account believed to belong to Sineenat before it was shut down extolled her loyalty to the monarch.

“Royal Consort Sineenat has been committed physically, mentally, intellectually, and with all her ability to fulfil the wishes of King Maha Vajiralongkorn to ease his responsibilities in improving the lives of the people,” it said.

(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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