BANGKOK – Thai protesters, led by students, made fun on Thursday of the royal family in a protest in central Bangkok, using an improvised satirical fashion show to imitate the royals.
One of the participants walked on a red carpet wearing a tight crop top in an allusion to King Vajiralongkorn, who has been photographed wearing the garment on many occasions in Germany, where he lives during a large part of the year.
The comic catwalk was also a direct reference to Sirivannavari, one of the King’s daughters, who has been accused by the protesters of promoting her fashion brand with public subsidies.
“Thai people are going hungry, why do you keep using our money to hold a fashion show,” said one of the placards at the protest.
The students broke a taboo in August by demanding reforms in the monarchy to reduce the power of the King, despite the enormous respect commanded by the throne and one of the harshest lèse-majesté laws in the world, which lay down prison sentences of up to 15 years.
Since then, the allusions and direct criticism towards the royal household have increased along with the protests, in sharp contrast to the absence of public debate over the monarchy for many decades.
The King’s photos in crop tops are a good example of the virtual censorship, having been published in media outlets across the world except Thailand, where they were available only on social media.
The protesters have criticized Vajiralongkorn for modifying the constitution to be able to live in Germany without naming a regent and increasing control over units of the military and the vast royal estate, valued at around $35 billion.
The King, who ascended the throne in 2016, appears to lack the charisma and respect his father King Bhumibol commanded, and his time abroad and lavish lifestyle drew criticism during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is severely affecting Thailand’s economy.
With seven children from multiple marriages, the king divorced his third wife Srirasmi in 2014, while many of her relatives including her parents and siblings were sent to prison on charges of using the royal family’s image for personal gain.
Last year Vajiralongkorn married former flight attendant Suthida and named her the queen, months before officially introducing a royal consort, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi.
Apart from reforms in the monarchy, students have also demanded the drafting of a new constitution and reducing the power of the military, which has grabbed power repeatedly through 13 coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.
The latest coup was led in 2014 by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, who won the elections last year in a vote criticized for its alleged lack of transparency.