This Week in Asia

Members of the Nepalese royal family - Crown Prince Dipendra, King Birendra, Prince Nirajan, Queen Aiswarya and Princess Shuriti - pictured in 1990. Photo: Reuters


It was the night of June 1, 2001 when Narayanhity Palace, the residence of Nepal's then-monarch and his family, turned into the site of a royal bloodbath.

Ten members of the Shah dynasty, including King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah, Queen Aishwarya and two of their children, were gunned.

The killer was Birendra's son and Crown Prince Dipendra, who was drunk, according to Dr Rajiv Shahi, a family member who survived the shooting.

Birendra died about three days later after he was made king as part of the automatic succession process. One explanation is that his actions were fuelled by his parents' disapproval of his preferred bride, the daughter of a high-ranking Indian noble family, who he met while he was studying in Britain.

Nepalis were devastated and angry - there were riots in Kathmandu, the country's capital, as some insisted that Birendra's brother Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah had hatched an evil plan to become King.

The death of the royals prompted devastated Nepalis to storm the streets. Photo: Reuters

Gyanendra did eventually become King but he proved unpopular. In early 2008, he was forced from his throne after an election where most parties voted to turn the country into a republic, ending the Shah dynasty's rule of more than two centuries.

Narayanhity Palace today has been turned into a museum.

Gwen Leung, a travel consultant with Charlotte Travel, a Hong Kong-based tour company who has been to Nepal multiple times said she has seen memorials for the former royal family during her trips there but the incident is rarely mentioned by locals she has interacted with.

Srirasmi Suwadee (right), a commoner by birth, was the third wife of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Photo: EPA


Srirasmi Suwadee, the third wife of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn, has not been seen in public since he ended their marriage in December 2014.

A commoner by birth, she married the king - then the crown prince - in 2011 and is the mother of Prince Dipangkorn, who is now 14 and the presumptive heir to the throne.

The news that Srirasmi had asked for permission to relinquish her royal title, which the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej granted, followed the arrests of her relatives, including her parents, for alleged corruption and misuse of their royal status for their personal gain.

Thailand has strict lese-majeste laws with punishment of up to 15 years in prison.

"I would call it a 'hushed scandal' given the difficulties in speaking openly about the monarchy. The news was widely shared, but carefully reported leaving Thais to gossip among themselves," said James Buchanan, a PhD candidate in the department of Asian and International Studies at City University.

Buchanan says the purge was seen "as the king 'getting his house in order' before ascending the throne". King Vajiralongkorn will have his coronation ceremony from May 4 to 6 this year.

Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei. Photo: AP


Multi-billionaire playboy Prince Jefri Bolkiah, the brother of Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, was known for custom-made luxury cars, million-dollar yachts, and commissioning life-size "erotic statues" of himself and his then-fiancee.

But his ultra-rich lifestyle came crashing down around him in 2000, when his brother Hassanal sued him for misappropriating US$14.8 billion from the Brunei Investment Authority, the agency that manages the country's oil wealth. He was stripped of his finance minister title and lived in London in exile.

A settlement was reached, and Jefri agreed to return over 50 properties in the US, Europe and England, and live on a monthly allowance of US$300,000. But legal documents later said he only surrendered some and not all of his assets. Still, the BIA was able to recover assets later and Jefri later said he had reconciled with his brother the Sultan.

"At the time, there were a lot of whispers among locals. The news was also available on the internet and was not, in any way, censored - which is noteworthy for a country with a heavily centralised and controlled media," said a 31-year-old Bruneian man who asked to remain anonymous.

But the prince, now in his late 60s, made headlines again in December 2010 when a New York State court ruled against him in a dispute with his two British lawyers.

Jefri and his companies sued Faith Zaman and Thomas Derbyshire for enriching themselves while overseeing the prince's assets, including the Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue. Zaman and Derbyshire countersued Jefri for underpaying them.

Crown Princess Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Pembayun of Yogyakarta, Indonesia.


Hamengkubuwono X, a Javanese royal and the 10th ruler of Yogyakarta, raised the ire of his family when he named his eldest daughter, Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Mangkubumi, the Crown Princess in 2015 and thus his chosen heir to the throne.

"A female sultan is an impossibility," the princess' cousin Kanjeng Raden Tumenggung Jatiningrat said at the time, according to AFP.

But Hamengkubuwono, a champion of women's rights who was also elected governor of Yogyakarta in 1998, has made clear he does not think gender matters when it comes to serving the people.

Hamengkubuwono X is Sultan of the historic Yogyakarta Sultanate in Indonesia. Photo: Tempo

He has said publicly that he wants his daughter - who studied in Singapore and Australia - to succeed him as ruler and governor. A Constitutional Court ruling in 2016 effectively scrapped patriarchal domination in the sultanate, paving the way for a female leader.

But Teuku Rezasyah, dean of the humanities faculty at President University in West Java, said the ascension of the princess was still being debated by people in Yogyakarta, a city in Central Java of about 400,000 people.

It is the only region ruled by a monarch in democratic Indonesia, thus allowing a royal to enter politics, he said. Hamengkubuwono's wife, Kanjeng Ratu Hemas, is also a politician.

"She and her daughter have an influence ... on people seeking inspiration or a figure to look up to," he said.

Princess Mako, the elder daughter of Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, and her fiance Kei Komuro. Photo: Reuters


Japan's Princess Mako had to delay her wedding to paralegal Kei Komuro after it was revealed that his mother borrowed 4 million (US$36,100) from her former fiance to cover debts resulting from expenses on Komuro's education.

The couple announced they planned to marry in November 2018 but the Imperial Household Agency said last February that it would be pushed back until 2020.

The public was largely sympathetic towards Mako, the daughter of Prince Fumihito, the younger son of Emperor Akihito. She will have to give up her royal title when she marries.

Few believe the scandal has done any lasting damage to the royal family's reputation - the 85-year-old Emperor, who will abdicate on April 30 in favour of his older son Naruhito, is deeply respected.

Koichi Ishiyama, a professor of media studies at Toin University of Yokohama, said: "It's because newspapers and magazines want to create a scandal and sell more copies. They've blown the story up out of all proportion and I think that's a little sad, but it won't affect the imperial system."

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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