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The poodle that helped swing Thailand’s election

King Vajiralongkorn during his coronation in 2019. Linh Pham/Getty

There are a couple of reasons why Thailand’s fiercely “pro-military, pro-King” ruling party got “battered” in the country’s recent general election, say Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart on The Rest is Politics. The first is that the country has experienced one of the world’s great “economic miracles”. GDP per capita in 1980 was $700; today it’s 11 times higher, at around $8,000. That has created a giant middle class, and an unprecedented youth movement that has rallied around the hip, pro-reform opposition party. The other reason is the King. Legally, Thailand’s monarch cannot be criticised. That was fine during the 70-year reign of the universally adored King Bhumibol. But with his son Vajiralongkorn, who has been on the throne since 2016, it’s a different matter.

he 70-year-old, who lives in Bavaria with the queen, is perhaps best known outside Thailand for his old poodle, who held the official title of “Air Chief Marshal Fufu”. In 2011, Wikileaks published an embassy cable in which the US ambassador describes Fufu turning up at a diplomatic reception in “full evening gear”, including diamanté shoes, and being allowed to “dance over the tables” and drink freely from the guests’ glasses. Before that, a video emerged of a lavish birthday party for the pampered pooch, in which Vajiralongkorn’s then wife wandered around topless wearing only a G-string. These stories – along with the king’s reputation as a “party boy” – have become a major bone of contention among Thai voters. All the opposition party had to do was to say so out loud.