It is almost 6 months since the military took over control of Thailand in a coup on 22nd May, 2014.
A majority of Thais welcomed this move – even many in the pro Thaksin camp – as everyone was becoming increasingly concerned that the extreme polarisation of Thai society between the ‘pro-reds and ‘anti-reds’ was fast getting out of hand.
Incidents of extreme violence were spiralling out of control.
The military regime, under the redoubtable general Prayuth, has enjoyed widespread support and even now, nearly six months later, this still seems to be the case, despite the fact that there is no prospect in sight for the lifting of martial law, and the prospects for a return to democracy seem further away than ever.
But when we look at the ambitious plans set out by the good General and his colleagues, it is absolutely clear that it will take a lot longer than six months to turn this country around, to uproot deep-seated, endemic corruption and deliver to the Thai people the proper democracy which they have always craved.
In fact, there is so much to change, that one has to wonder whether any regime can really make serious inroads in turning Thailand into a true democratic society, given the endless corrupt, self -serving governments that have ill-served Thailand for generations.
A mighty task for anyone – let alone for someone who has spent his life in the military. But General Prayuth is nobody’s fool and he understands only too well the herculean task that lies ahead.
Whether he will succeed in his efforts, only time will tell, but it is far too early to start ‘sharpening the knives’.
That he is a character – a very strong character – there is no doubt. The General is a one-off and like us all, he has his good and bad points. He is not a seasoned politician and is therefore more likely to say what he thinks without any regard for scoring political points.
In my humble opinion, if anyone is to succeed in changing the future course of Thailand for the better, it is General Prayuth.
Just to give an idea of what this man is all about, I set out below a few excepts of reportage and quotes by the general and his colleagues during the six months since he took over the reins of government.
Love him or hate him, nobody can deny he’s a fascinating leader, and believe me, Thailand will need someone very special if it is to throw off the yoke that has stifled the nation’s political development for so long.
Below is a small, titillating selection of recent press quotes by the General and his close colleagues.
Junta chief Gen. Prayuth Chanocha has admonished the appointed members of the National Legislative Assembly not to play with their phones during sessions.
“Military NLA members must not take naps, play on the Line [mobile phone] application or play with other social network apps during NLA meetings,”
“I don’t know if people listened attentively to what I said [in previous programmes],” he said. “Some people criticised me about my shirt collar not being as neat as before. I am not a celebrity,”
For about one hour he talked about almost everything that needed to be reformed, from city planning to public transportation and energy. The audience applauded loudly when he talked about education.
“Students don’t have textbooks. They’ve got only sheets. I don’t know what the Teachers’ Council of Thailand has been doing,” he said.
He said students were made to work too hard, with many having tutorial classes on top of their normal classes.
“Children nowadays don’t know how to do housework,” he said. “Parents see them overwhelmed with homework until 10pm, so they don’t want to tell their kids to do it [housework].
“The father helps his kid with the homework, and the next day the kid tells him the answers were all wrong.” Prayuth added, to laughter.
Another remark that attracted a cheer was when he spoke about garbage sorting.
“What’s the point of garbage sorting in bins when the garbage collectors later put it all in the same truck?” he said.
When Prayuth said he did not lead the coup due to a thirst of power, he interacted with the audience.
“Any of the people in the front row here can be a prime minister. Anyone wants to take the post?” he said and then mentioned Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul.
“We [the National Council for Peace and Order and military officers] haven’t had a holiday since the coup,” he said. “Families are almost broken. Our wives are going to leave us. How much is the daily allowance?” He turned to ask his subordinates. “It’s Bt400.”
Former red-shirt leader Veerakan Musigapong did not seem to enjoy Prayuth’s joke about the legal cases faced by him.
“What do you say, Brother Veera? How many cases? … Let it be up to the courts to decide then,” Prayuth said.
Veerakan later told the media he was surprised to be a subject of Prayuth’s humour as they were not close friends. He said he attended the event following the military’s invitation although he was not so eager to come
…Prayuth said many times that he did not want to stage the coup. In his 37 years in military, he had never breached a rule as he believed soldiers must be disciplined, he said
“If we cannot solve the problems, we cannot join the Asean [community] and Asean cannot have negotiating power with the super powers,” he said.
“I am not any better than any of you. But I have the conscience [of thinking about public interest before personal interest]. I know you also have such a conscience. I respect all of you.”…
…Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chanocha on Friday criticized television soap operas for promoting violence and division in society and said he wanted scripts to encourage reconciliation. He said he would write them himself if he had to.
Prayuth bemoaned hugely popular television soap operas which he said encouraged violence rather than peace. Some television dramas have also been criticized for trivializing rape and domestic violence
“I have ordered that scripts be written, including plays on reconciliation, on tourism and on Thai culture,” Prayuth told reporters.
“They are writing plots at the moment and if they can’t finish it I will write it myself,” he said of a team of government-appointed writers.
…Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said Friday that he would like Thais to prefer rice over bread.
“We should preserve Thai culture of eating rice instead of teaching Thais to eat bread,” Prayut said during his weekly TV programme Friday night.
He said foreign athletes now eat rice as source of energy while Thais have started shunning rice.
“I would like to promote Thais to eat rice and would like the entire global populations to eat rice,” Prayut said.
…Excerpts of exchange between Prayuth and a veteran Thai reporter.
“You [the premier] don’t answer our questions straight, to the point, and don’t address issues we ask about.”
“No. When I conclude, I have to ensure that I explain and describe for you [reporter] a clear picture and create a learning process.”
“We already have the basic knowledge.”
“Do you have the knowledge to administer the country like me? You just write, think, and speak, that’s all. And what do I do? I think, write, give orders, follow up on the work and write the plans. Anyone who can write [the plan as I do] please come and stand here.”
“Please don’t get angry.”
“You can’t insult me this way.”
“We aren’t insulting you, but we want to get further information for our questions.”
“When incorrect information is published, do you [the media] apologise to me?”
“The newspaper will take responsibility.”
“I don’t know. It is everyone’s responsibility. You cannot speak this way. You have to reform the media for me. How will you people regulate each other?”
“This will reduce the conflict. I personally accept and respect you. Please don’t get angry at me.”
Prayut then smiled, wai-ed the reporter and apologises to the media before leaving.
…”I am ready to resign. I want to resign every day but I can’t afford to see people in trouble. I do not want to stay in office a day longer than set. At present I fight every day. When I am home, I argue with my wife. She asked why I did not do that. I said I did it but some task was beyond my ability. Then there was upset. In conclusion I am unhappy. Everyone is unhappy,”
“I want to assure you that we only came to solve problems and help the country progress; we have never had any political agenda and never thought of creating a political party. I never think about that, this is already too tiring.”
…Prayuth said he did not come to power by a military coup, but rather he:
“came in to help a government that couldn’t function”, before he jokingly asked, “that sounds better, doesn’t it?”
Asked if he dared to go to the North-eastern region which is the stronghold of Pheu Thai Party and the red shirts, Prayuth said:
“As long as it is Thailand, I will go. Wherever it is, North, Northeast and South. I’m Thai and not the enemy of any Thai. Don’t force me to take sides.”
Asked if he has many enemies, Prayuth said “no”, adding
“If I have some, my guards must take care of it.”
He asked the officials to modify their approach to the grassroots level.
“When you talk to grassroots people, try to think like them and speak to them in their language.”
There were questions with regard to Prayuth’s lucky charms and his belief in auspicious times.
“I am a Thai person and I just follow our traditions like all Thais … who in this room doesn’t wear a Buddha necklace? We all do,” he responded.
On Tuesday, Prayuth explained to reporters the significance of each of the four rings he wears.
…Yesterday, he continued his effort to make friends with reporters by singing “Returning Happiness to the Thai People” song that he had composed, adding he could do better with some instruments.
This song is a popular anthem of the junta’s administration that has been playing every day since the military staged a coup in May.
He also said he would shorten his “Bringing Happiness to People” telecast on Fridays because he is afraid people might get bored with him.
Asked if his future trips would include the United States, he said
“Yes, if they want me to visit”.
After seizing power in a coup on 22 May, the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) ordered an overhaul of Thailand’s education system to promote patriotism among Thai youth. Kamol Rodklai, the secretary-general of the Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC), said the junta’s revised history textbooks are ready to be used in public schools across the country from 3 November onward.
“I am afraid that children understand democracy in an incorrect way because of the events in the country’s recent past. Therefore, I want all the teachers and school administrators to promote correct democracy for the kids.”
“There has to be a drastic change in the way history is taught,” Kamol said, “It shouldn’t focus only on the details of what happened, but also focus on creating a sense of Thai-ness and patriotism for the children.”