SALL THE Protesters marching through Bangkok wore tiny crop tops and tight bike shorts, revealing torsos covered in elaborate temporary tattoos. Others bowed mockingly to the half-dressed cyclists. The performance referred to the man they were marching against, Maha Vajiralongkorn, King of Thailand since 2016. King Vajiralongkorn spends most of his time in Germany, where the paparazzi sometimes manage to take pictures of him and members of his. harem in the genre of getting -up the walkers imitated. Not only were the demonstrations on September 19 and 20, in which tens of thousands of people took part, were the largest since the current wave of protests began in July; they also revealed how opposition to the government of Prayuth Chan-ocha, a coup leader turned prime minister, is evolving into an unprecedented attack on the monarchy.
King Vajiralongkorn does not have the popularity of his late father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who ruled for 70 years. Her personal life is as colorful as her tattoos. In addition to his current (fourth) wife, he has a concubine whom he has officially referred to as “royal wife” (a title that has not been used in Thailand for almost a century). More troubling still, he got involved in politics, seized control of “Crown assets” worth perhaps $ 40 billion, and assumed direct command of thousands of Bangkok-based soldiers.
Although Thailand is in theory a constitutional monarchy, criticism of the king has long been taboo. King Vajiralongkorn, in a show of kindness, ordered the government not to prosecute people under the fierce law on lèse majesté, punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years for insulting the king, queen, alleged heir or regent. But those who denigrate royalty often find themselves accused of sedition or computer crimes if they do so online. In July, a man was taken to a mental hospital after wearing a T-shirt which said: “I have lost all faith in the institution of the monarchy.”
Such incidents make the audacity of the demonstrators all the more striking. “This country belongs to the people, and not to the king”, we read on a plaque installed in the sidewalk by some of the organizers. “Down with feudalism, long live the people!” many shouted as they walked towards the royal palace. Upon arrival, they handed over ten requests for reform of the monarchy to an unfortunate policeman guarding the building empty. These included restrictions on the king’s interference in politics, the dissolution of his guards, the revocation of the lèse majesté law and the dismissal of the current government.
King’s defense officials point out that the protests were able to continue and that there was no descent in violence, as has often been the case with protests in Thailand in recent years. The resolutely monarchist army has remained silent. But there are bigger tests to come. Protesters have called for a general strike next month.
This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Do you hear the people, King?”