The beloved miniature poodle of Thailand’s crown prince has been cremated after four days of Buddhist funeral rights – an extravagance that’s surprising until one realizes that Foo Foo formally served as the country’s Air Chief Marshall.
In a diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks, the U.S. ambassador to Thailand, Ralph “Skip” Boyce, wrote about a gala he hosted in which the pooch came “dressed in formal evening attire complete with paw mitts” and at one point hopped on the table and drank from his glass.
As if a pet with overcoats and senior military rank didn’t make enough of a statement, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn scandalized the Thai people when photographs emerged of his wife’s 30th birthday. In them, Princess Srirasm fed the prized poodle birthday cake, while wearing little more than her birthday suit.
Thais have for years been put off by the playboy prince’s disconnected — and lurid — lifestyle, but few air their distaste for fear of the harsh penalties that come with even veiled dissent.
Still, photos of Foo Foo’s lavish burial rites have opened the door to satirical social media posts. The biggest question seems to be that of succession, since the prince is due to succeed his ailing, 88-year-old father as the next Thai King.
Many in Thailand would rather see Princess Sirindhorn take the throne. A far cry from her brother’s bad boy ways, she’s often called “Princess Angel” in Thailand for her saintly image and charitable works.
But questioning the King’s choice for his heir would be asking for trouble.
Although the King said in 2005 that he welcomes criticism, in reality, anyone who criticizes the royal family faces harsh repercussions. Freedom of speech is highly restricted in Thailand, especially when it relates to the powers that be.
In November, Thai authorities detained several students who flashed the three-finger salute of Hunger Games fame after the symbol came to represent resistance to Thailand’s military rulers who grabbed power in a coup last May.
The ruling military junta has embarked on a “witch hunt” against activists under an unforgiving law guarding the royal family, according to the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights.
In just six months after the coup, authorities arrested 18 people under Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws. The laws are officially meant to safeguard the monarchy, but instead are used to suppress opposition and settle political scores.
A former professor and political activist was arrested for wearing a black shirt in the “auspicious month” of December when Thais are expected to don yellow to extend best wishes to the King, who was born in that month.
Two students face up to 15 years in jail under the laws for staging a play about a fictitious king. Although the script has not been circulated, the fact that it was to be performed on the 40th anniversary of a pro-democracy protest led by students was perhaps cause enough for their arrests.
It is “political weaponry in the guise of a legal system,” Jakrapob Penkair, a former employee in the Prime Minister’s Office told Time Magazine. Penkair was himself accused of lèse majesté for criticizing Thailand’s culture of royal patronage.
He noted that the laws are especially insidious because they can be brought by any Thai citizen – even those who don’t live in the country.
Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a Thai activist who was charged with lèse majesté after he voiced opposition to a 2006 military coup, said in an interview with Green Left that the military’s connection with the monarchs has led to further abuse of the laws.
“What we are really seeing is a conflict between the old order, crystallized around the military, using the monarchy as their symbol,” he said. “The King is constantly being used as an excuse to stage coups or to lock people up…[T]he military need[s] him more than anyone as it doesn’t have any legitimacy itself to intervene into politics. Therefore, it calls on the ‘legitimacy’ of the King.”
“In my opinion,” the exiled activist said, “The monarchy doesn’t really have any power, but people build him up to appear to have power.”
While that may be true, it’s in the interest of the military to maintain the King’s majesty — if only to rubber stamp their own hold on power.
And let’s not forget that with an estimated $30 billion to his name, Thailand’s King Bhumidol Adulyadej is considered to be the richest monarch in the world.
And upon the octogenarian monarch’s death, his playboy son is likely to inherit not only the thrown but vast riches and some real sway with the military. That means there may be yet more extravagant pet funerals to come.