The dramatic shift in the royal court comes as Thailand has been rocked by political protests and the role of the monarchy is being debated openly for the first time in decades.
The protests have been directed at the government, economic mismanagement, corruption, and handling of the pandemic, but have also featured open discussion of the role of the monarchy in a country where insulting the king can bring a jail term of up to 15 years. Demonstrators have called for 10 reforms to the monarchy, including cuts to its budget, the end of the lese-majeste or royal defamation law, and greater accountability.
Exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, whose Royalist Marketplace Facebook community boasts 1.1 million members and shares information about the monarchy, said the order showed Vajiralongkorn was acting outside the constitution despite the public demand.
“Obviously he heard the call for immediate monarchical reform, but chose to ignore it,” Pavin said from Japan. “The fact that he continues to operate outside the legal framework in emancipating his mistress [from custody] shows his disdain toward the reform. This signals the way he thinks of power, absolute power, which leaves no room for compromise.
“In some ways, his ignorance of the call is his answer to the call. The students are likely to intensify their calls as a result of the announcement on emancipating the mistress.”
Sineenat was the first to hold the rank of noble consort since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. She was a former bodyguard promoted in July 2019, just months after the king married his fourth wife, Queen Suthida.
However, Sineenat was stripped of her position in October 2019 and denounced for misbehaviour.
“She lacks the understanding of the good traditions of the royal court. She displays disobedience against the king and the queen,” the statement said at the time.
German media reported Sineenat’s arrival from Bangkok in recent days; the king lives almost full-time in a Bavarian hotel. The queen is believed to live in Switzerland. Sineenat was not seen in public after her downfall last year.
In nearly four years since his father’s death, Vajiralongkorn has shown himself to be much more overtly interventionist in politics, consolidated army units under his direct command, and converted a sovereign wealth fund into a personal fortune.
Vajiralongkorn, 68, spent six years in Australia, studying first at the King’s School in Parramatta before four years at the Royal Military College Duntroon and time with the Special Air Service Regiment in Perth.
Several protest leaders are facing charges over the demonstrations, which began early in the year but gathered momentum in August. The next mass protest is expected on September 19.
Michael Ruffles is the chief sub-editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.