Promoting The Dictator

6 06 2021

Trump supporters used to chant “Four more years!” In Thailand, the state’s PR arms are chanting “Seven more years!” or something similar for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been hopeless on the economy, has botched recent virus policy, and has pandered to palace and royalists, while promoting criminals like Thammanat Prompao. He’s been adept at shuffling loot to the military and the big conglomerates, and he’s been especially good at political repression.

The Prime Minister Operations Centre (PMOC) “has launched a campaign, derided by critics, to end attacks on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for holding on to power for so long.”

For us, one day was already too long.

According to reports, the state is wasting money on infographics “featuring Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and projects developed during his seven-year tenure are posted on the Facebook page of the … PMOC … in its campaign to counter criticism spreading on social media of his lengthy stay in power.”

The PMOC has come up with slogans that don’t roll off the tongue: “Uncle Tu, 7 years. So, what’s wrong?” Lots!

The PMOC has the difficult task of making a silk purse from a water buffalo ear, “highlighting the government’s achievements.” Of course, its main “achievement” has been staying in power for seven years, and the regime hopes for another 13 years.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak’s op ed this week lists just some of the regime’s “successes”:

  • a subpar economic performance
  • persistent controversies from his cabinet’s incomplete oath of office
  • a cabinet minister’s past drug conviction and imprisonment in Australia
  • Prayuth’s house on army premises after retirement
  • leading the military coup in May 2014
  • jacked up public debt to nearly the legal ceiling of 60% of GDP
  • hopeless coalition government
  • neutering’s and cooption of supposedly independent agencies and judiciary

Thitinan points out that “the main implication from Thailand being stuck with Gen Prayut indefinitely is that the country’s near-term political future is likely to be tumultuous and turbulent due to pent-up and mounting grievances that are being systematically suppressed.”

As he says, there’s “no available means to change government at this time.” This means more of the same and maybe Gen Prayuth for another six years. If that happens, this dolt will have become Thailand’s longest-ever premier.

The opposition, primarily Pheu Thai, Move Forward, and Seri Ruam Thai parties, perform accountability and checks-and-balance functions as much as they can but they can only go so far due to a lack of parliamentary numbers. Unless a coalition partner pulls out, the Prayut government can stay on until the four-year clock runs out.

Thing were different in the past. In contemporary Thai politics, coalition withdrawals in the 1980s and more recently in 1995 and 1996 led to new polls, returning the mandate to the people. In 1997, the sitting premier resigned, enabling the then-opposition to form a government. Government coalition dynamics have changed in the past two decades.

The coups of 2006 and 2014, the new constitutions and the shift of power towards the military have made the playing field less even and more lopsided. It meant that when the military took over in 2014 and took matters into its own hands, the generals would be in charge for good. Elected politicians had to fall in line. If they wanted to partake in the spoils of government in a country with a weak society and even weaker checks and accountability mechanisms, then there is no other way than to stay and stick with the ruling coalition.

Backed by the incumbent centres of power with enough elected politicians in the government’s stable, while oppositional ranks that recently included the youth-led student movement lack momentum, Gen Prayut is likely able to muddle day by day to the last syllable of his four-year term. At issue will be when the time comes for potential change in early 2023. The piled-up public unhappiness will be immense in view of a slow economic recovery and accumulated government incompetence and mismanagement. Although cathartic change can happen in the interim, the time around the next election is likely to see Thailand either perk up or sink inexorably downwards.


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