King Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand is on what might be called a Coronavirus holiday and in the grand style typical of monarchs. The pandemic did not stop the King from embarking on a kingly, pleasurable self-isolation in a German resort luxury hotel, the London based Independent reported today. According to the paper, the king has been self-isolating in a luxury hotel in the Alpine resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen with his entourage. It estimates the number of the entourage at a “harem” of 20 concubines and numerous servants, 119 of them now back in Thailand after having speculatively tested positive to coronavirus. The report could not establish if his four wives are part of the ‘entourage’
The point of interest in the story is the predictable diversity of meaning people will read into the action. It is safe to expect that reactions will differ from indifference to utter concern, from ethical to professional, political, regional and ideological. It will be interesting to know what the reaction would be in Nigeria or any other African country, none of which is as materially developed as Thailand.
The German tabloid Bild from where the Independent got its story said the king who is also known as Rama X got “special permission” from the district council to stay on ground of the homogeneity of the entourage and to then book and be allowed the entire four-star hotel Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl. Information in the paper said Guesthouses and hotels in the region were ordered to close due to the coronavirus crisis, but the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl was exempted
Notwithstanding the outlawing of challenging the monarchy in Thailand online, popular reaction to this style of self-isolation is said to have attracted popular anger by tens of thousands of Thai people, Under the said laws, anyone who insults or criticises the monarchy could be imprisoned for up to 15 years, reported the Independent. But the paper is also saying that a Thai hashtag which translates to “Why do we need a king?” has reportedly appeared 1.2 million times on Twitter within 24 hours based on the claim of an activist to the effect that the king is holidaying in Germany in the heat of continued spread of coronavirus across Thailand, with the Thai Ministry of Public Health announcing earlier today 109 new cases of infection that brings the total to 1,245.
Firing from France where he is based, the activist by name Somsak Jeamteerasakul, posted a series of Facebook posts that claimed Vajiralongkorn was holidaying across Europe since March basically out of “boredom”. His claim appears to receive corroboration in a story in The Times to the effect that the Thai king has not made a public appearance in his home country since February.
The Independent is speculating that the king whose reign in Thailand began in 2016 after the death of his father, Bhumibol may not be as popular as his father who ruled for over 70 years except that there are no ways of gauging his popularity among Thais because of lèse-majesté laws that are categorised as severe.