BANGKOK (Reuters) – On one side of his head it reads “Long Live”, on the other “The King”. And on the back is a painstakingly snipped birthday portrait of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Devoted monarchist Mitree Mike Chitinunda decided to mark the king’s 67th birthday on Sunday with a haircut that has drawn praise from some royalists but criticism from others, who view it as disrespectful.
“Some people think I do it to show off, but that’s not true. I just do it to show my love for the king,” Mitree, 47, told Reuters.
Thai ultra-royalists are known for extreme displays of devotion to the monarch, seen as a semi-divine figure.
But in nearly three years on the throne, King Vajiralongkorn has not acquired the mass affection that his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, gained during seven decades of rule before his death in 2016.
Mitree, who sports a crimson beard, has had special haircuts before – including one of Thailand’s current prime minister and former junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha.
The haircuts made him popular at the hospital where he works as a radiographer and that helps put patients at ease, he said.
The latest cut was planned carefully with barber Vorajit Chantanon, who is also a strongly committed royalist and marked the king’s birthday by giving free haircuts.
Mitree sat with a portrait of the king in his hands for the barber to follow. The haircut took more than three hours. To maintain the picture requires further snipping every few days.
Pictures of the haircut posted on Facebook drew a mixture of praise and condemnation.
“Some people have been pleased with it and said ‘Long Live the King’. Some people have said it’s not appropriate to have the king’s portrait there,” Vorajit said. “But we just want to express our loyalty.”
Special haircuts are a regular feature for Vorajit, but the Buddha and dragons are more usual subjects.
Since taking the throne, Vajiralongkorn has put a forceful stamp on the monarchy. Among orders from the palace is for the short haircuts that men who serve there and in the armed forces are required to have.
Criticism of the monarchy is illegal in Thailand and strict lese-majeste laws protecting members of the royal family from insult limit what all news organizations, including Reuters, can report.
(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)