Thai­land’s crown prince in the lime­light at cy­cling com­pe­ti­tion

The China Post - - LIFE GUIDE POST - BY JU APILAPORN

Thai­land’s crown prince led tens of thou­sands of blue-clad cy­clists through Bangkok on Sun­day in a rare high-pro­file public ap­pear­ance amid anx­i­ety over the health of the ail­ing king.

Prince Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn, 63, headed the first group of cy­clists at the “Bike for Mom” event in the cap­i­tal’s his­toric quar­ter — a cel­e­bra­tion of the role of his el­derly mother Queen Sirikit.

Bangkok has been awash with blue T-shirts bear­ing the slo­gan “Bike for Mom” since her 83rd birth­day last Wed­nes­day — blue is the of­fi­cial color of the Queen, who is hos­pi­tal­ized with her hus­band.

The tightly chore­ographed event thrusts the crown prince cen­ter stage at a time of height­ened con­cern over the health of his revered fa­ther — 87-year-old King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej — as well as over the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic for­tunes of the coun­try.

The crown prince, in cy­cling ly­cra, hel­met and sun­glasses, was fol­lowed by a who’s who of Thai­land’s key po­lit­i­cal play­ers in­clud­ing Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha, and sev­eral other junta mem­bers brav­ing the Bangkok af­ter­noon heat.

The pow­er­ful head of the Privy Coun­cil, Prem Tin­su­lanonda, watched the start of pro­ceed­ings from un­der an awning as crowds shouted “Long live the crown prince!”

Fears over the fu­ture — with elites com­pet­ing for in­flu­ence as Bhu­mi­bol’s reign en­ters its twi­light years — are seen as a fac­tor be­hind a decade of po­lit­i­cal tur­moil.

Palace doc­tors last week re­vealed the king has been treated for wa­ter on the brain and a chest in­fec­tion at Bangkok’s Siri­raj Hos­pi­tal.

In re­cent years Prince Va­ji­ra­longkorn has spent much of his time away from the public eye.

But he has stepped in at some of­fi­cial cer­e­monies as his fa­ther’s health declines.

“It’ll be my first time to see the prince in my life ... I’m happy,” said cy­clist Sirikarn Bam­rungjit, 39, shortly be­fore

the race started.

Trou­bled king­dom

The 43- kilo­me­ter ( 27- mile) event, which is tak­ing place across the coun­try, aims to break the world record of 72,919 peo­ple for a mass cy­cling event. The record is cur­rently held by Tai­wan.

But it is also billed as a chance to pro­mote unity among Thais 15 months af­ter a coup swept away the civil­ian gov­ern­ment— the latest episode in a seem­ingly end­less suc­ces­sion of elec­tions and coups.

Be­fore the event be­gan, Prayuth — who led last year’s coup — saluted the crown prince and said the event was to “show our love for roy­alty.”

Prayuth jus­ti­fied the top­pling of the elected gov­ern­ment as nec­es­sary to end months of protests and to com­bat cor­rup­tion.

The army also de­picts it­self as the de­fender of the monar­chy, win­ning the sup­port of archroy­al­ists who dom­i­nate Bangkok’s elite and the south­ern por­tion of the coun­try.

It has over­seen a surge in the num­ber of pros­e­cu­tions un­der Thai­land’s dra­co­nian lese ma­jeste laws.

A man was jailed for 30 years this month for “in­sult­ing” the monar­chy on Face­book, in one of the tough­est known sen­tences for royal defama­tion. The same day a woman re­ceived a 28-year jail term for the of­fense.

Thai­land’s gen­er­als have said they will hold free and fair elec­tions once the con­sti­tu­tion has been rewrit­ten and cor­rup­tion ex­punged.

But po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents ac­cuse the junta of want­ing to frag­ment Thai pol­i­tics to a such a de­gree that elec­tions will be mean­ing­less, adding the time­frame for new polls keeps slip­ping as the econ­omy also loses zip.

A state­ment Satur­day by the top­pled Puea Thai party said the pro­posed draft char­ter would es­tab­lish a “fake democ­racy,” lead to weak gov­ern­ment and fu­ture di­vi­sions.

Thai­land has been cleaved apart since 2006 when bil­lion­aire ex-premier Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra was top­pled in a pre­vi­ous coup, spark­ing rounds of com­pet­ing — and of­ten vi­o­lent — street protests.

The Shi­nawa­tra clan has won ev­ery elec­tion since 2001, but is loathed by the roy­al­ist elite who ac­cuse them of wide­spread cor­rup­tion and sub­vert­ing the king­dom’s po­lit­i­cal sta­tus quo.

AP

Thai Crown Prince Va­ji­ra­longkorn waves re­gally to a crowd be­fore lead­ing “Bike for Mom” par­tic­i­pants in Bangkok, Thai­land, Sun­day.

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