The military junta is predictable, mainly because, while erratic in behavior, The Dictator is rather dull-witted. Unfortunately, power is about arrogance, so General Prayuth Chan-ocha does not recognize his limitations.
This predictability saw PPT post on Wednesday about middle class populism to shore up wavering political support in this core constituency for authoritarian regimes. We recognized this in the military dictatorship’s populist gifts for the middle class.
As if on cue, the Bangkok Post has this headline:
PM urges middle class to save day
Warns against populist appeals to the poor
The Post report that Prayuth’s call was “similar to the pitch made by anti-government groups [the People’s Democratic Reform Committee] campaigning against the Pheu Thai-led government before the coup…”. Given that Prayuth’s military provided all manner of support to the anti-democrats on the streets and that many of The Dictator’s ideas are congruent with those of the madder yellow shirts, this is is not particularly surprising.
Prayuth and the anti-democrats have long held that “democracy” is more than elections, and yet Prayuth’s call is to the rich – the good people – and the middle class – the moralists – to ‘come out and vote if they want to stop parties pitching populist policies to the poor from regaining office…”. Given his own populist policies, we assume that he refers to defeating populist policies directed to the poor and disadvantaged.
He demands that the rich and middle class unite to defeat pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties. He called these “political parties [that] refuse to drop populism to woo votes…”. He warns the rich and the middle class:
If they [political parties] use the same old campaign strategy, they will come [to power] with the votes of the poor who want more money to make their life better….
The people in the middle- and upper income ranges have to step in and cast their votes in national polls and the charter referendum too.
If they say they don’t vote because they don’t like politicians and elections, the votes from those who want more money will win. Only some groups of people will come out and vote for their clans. We’ll see the same old problems.
Perhaps Prayuth knows that the new constitution will gerrymander the electorate sufficiently that the minority that is the rich and middle class can carry a junta-defined election. Perhaps he believes that he has cowed the poor sufficiently to prevent them voting for the parties they prefer.
Again, Prayuth promised to “give back” power in July 2017 but also “promised to lay down a national reform strategy plan for the next 20 years during his remaining months in office.”
He demanded that political parties “change their election campaign from focusing on populist policies to how they would implement the junta government’s strategic plan and related economic and social development plans…”.
While various sycophantic ministers followed Prayuth, they seemed rather bored by Prayuth himself, with several appearing asleep, as seen in this clip from a Bangkok Post photo.
Reuters reports that Prayuth stated that his junta “was entering ‘phase two’ of its reform plan.”
Having “stifled dissent and has gone hard after critics of the monarchy by using a harsh royal insult law to detain dozens of people…”, phase two could be nastier still, and the recent arrests and crackdowns may be the first of many such actions over the next year or so.
An indication of this intent was seen in Prayuth’s angry comments about those who dissent. At The Nation, he is reported as criticizing international rights groups:
We are being watched by international organisations. There are groups that try to distort the truth. Everyone is demanding democracy, freedom and liberty. I ask if this is possible? We have been on this path for 83 years and faced many coups. So I want true reform for the future of our children….
As we have said several times recently, Thailand is in a dark spot and its getting darker.
The only sparks of light at present are those brave individuals and groups that oppose the dictatorship: students, lawyers, academics, and now some workers, as well as those seething under the military boot in the countryside.