No one can confuse General Prayuth Chan-ocha for a democrat. He’s been involved in two military coups overthrowing elected governments. He was the leader of the 2014 coup. He has established a repressive regime, and for all of the talk of a “roadmap,” that leads to a regime that political scientists might have euphemistically thought of – in the 1980s and 1990s – as a “semi-democracy.” He’s also more comfortable with royalism than constitutionalism, rule by law rather than rule of law and he abhors personal freedoms and liberties. That’s why we call him The Dictator.
Dictators come in various shapes and forms, although it must be admitted that, worldwide, there are fewer of them these days. Some might consider Thailand’s supreme leader as a throwback to the Cold War era of military dictators, and he certainly does look like that at times. As many have pointed out, though, his regime, with its enhanced royalism and the associated personality cult that is still promoted for an almost dead king, does look a bit like North Korea with advertising and a capitalist class. We are pretty sure that The Dictator admires aspects of the North Korean regime.
The other likely model is China. There have been plenty of reports on how the military regime under Prayuth has moved closer to China. There are also indications of admiration based on style and program. Like a good many vain senior Thais, Prayuth would fit neatly into the Chinese Politburo, with rich, dyed black hair.
Like Chinese leaders, Prayuth manages to come up with slogans and aphorisms (as well as songs) that express his views and which are apparently meant to “motivate” others. His most recent is scrolling across the top of a leading state propaganda site: “The Prime Minister has given the motto for the National Children’s Day 2016 …: ‘Good child, diligent, learning, towards a bright future’.”
Appearance and self-obsession aside, there is more sinister learning and emulation at work that is mixed with the Thai military’s great capacity for repression, terror and murder. Controlling, restricting and banning all events it sees as “political” and “oppositional” is something else the Chinese regime does with brutish efficiency. Like the Chinese regime, Prayuth’s seeks to threaten and cajole political opponents. When that fails, it locks them up, often with sedition and lese majeste charges.
At the state propaganda site and also reported by Khaosod is something that is still short of the Chinese approach, but getting there: “The government announced yesterday that it has asked Facebook and Youtube to ban the accounts of users that distribute any offensive remarks about the monarchy on the internet.”
Both companies have previously managed to bow to state pressure on the monarchy, so the response this time will be a test of company backbone. We expect it to crumble, as Microsoft appears to have colluded with The Dictator’s regime. For the moment, both companies have “declined to comment.”
Officials say there are “almost 100 accounts on Youtube and 20-30 accounts on Facebook” that they want banned. There may be more as the dictatorship further encourages “[m]embers of the public … to report any website considered to violate the royal defamation law…”.
Minor prince and military flunkey Panadda Diskul, who chaired the meeting on Wednesday, declared that the “urgent discussion” was a response to concerns expressed by Prayuth. Follow the leader is a well-known Chinese game.
Prayuth’s world is authoritarian. He learns from China, North Korea and plenty of past Thai autocrats.