The publication of secret US diplomatic cables by the WikiLeaks whistle-blowing website about the Thai royal family has breached one of the country’s most severe taboos.
The cables purport to quote senior Thai officials who are portrayed as casting doubt on the succession prospects of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralonkorn, the heir apparent, and accuse the queen of being one of the forces behind a 2006 military coup.
They are the latest in a series of highly sensitive US government documents to be released by WikiLeaks. Governments around the world have been embarrassed by the leaked cables and have widely condemned the website and Julian Assange, its founder.
The most explosive of the Thai cables recounts meetings at the beginning of this year between Eric John, the former US ambassador, and three of the most senior members of the royalist establishment: General Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the king’s Privy Council and a former prime minister; Anand Panyarachun, also a former prime minister; and Air Chief Marshal Siddhi Savetsila, another Privy Counsellor.
According to the cable, “Siddhi stated that succession would be a difficult transition time for Thailand . . . he added that if the Crown Prince were to die, anything could happen, and maybe Prathep [Sirindhorn] could succeed.” Princess Sirindhorn is the crown prince’s younger sister. The palace does not respond to media enquiries.
Thani Thongpakdi, the foreign ministry spokesman, said: “Regarding WikiLeaks in general, we are not in a position to verify or vouch for their authenticity and as most reports that have come out seem hearsay or gossip, and some may be taken out of context, we should not give credence to them.”
King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the only head of state that most Thais have ever known and commands extraordinary levels of loyalty and love from his subjects but he is 83 and in failing health.
“Anand said that he had always believed that the Crown Prince would succeed his father, according to law.
“However, there could be complicating factors – if Vajiralongkohn proved unable to stay out of politics, or avoid embarrassing financial transactions,” the cable said.
It is not the first time that the WikiLeaks cables, which were released by The Guardian newspaper, have reported on the government’s view of the royal family.
A 2008 cable said Samak Sundravej, the then prime minister, had accused Queen Sirikit, the king’s wife, of being “responsible for the 2006 coup d’état as well as the ongoing turmoil”, in which self-proclaimed royalists had spent months camped outside his office to try and force his resignation.
Under the Thai constitution, the royal family is supposed to stay above the country’s political turmoil, and Mr Thani said Mr Samak’s views were mistaken. “The Thai monarchy is above partisan politics and has not been involved in any political conflict,” Mr Thani said.
The country’s draconian lese majesty laws carry a penalty of 15 years in prison for those convicted of bringing the monarchy into disrepute.
There has been almost no media comment in the Thai press on the latest leaked cables.
Although Mr Samak, who died last year, was the leader of a party loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister who was removed in the coup, he had once been known as a staunch monarchist.
The US state department said: “I can’t comment on the contents of allegedly classified documents nor can we vouch for their authenticity.
“What I can say is that the US holds his majesty the king and the entire royal family in the highest esteem.”
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