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Coup Leader's Propaganda Crumbles in Thailand

Coup Leader's Propaganda Crumbles in Thailand

By Richard S. Ehrlich
26 September 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Stilted propaganda by coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to muzzle critics and dazzle foreigners, crumbled after his "bikini in Thailand" response to the murder of two British tourists, vicious Photoshopped images mocked him, and a financial scandal appeared inside his office.

"We are not dictators that just order whatever," Gen. Prayuth recently told European investors after staging a bloodless coup on May 22.

Gen. Prayuth simultaneously controls three top positions.

He is prime minister, head of the junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), and Thailand's army chief.

"I don't come from an election. I know that well," Gen. Prayuth said on Friday (Sept. 19).

"So please put on hold, all political criticism and forums on politics," he told reporters and academics.

"Have I done anything to damage the country since I took power?" the general asked.

"This is almost entrapment," Boston-based Southeast Asia analyst Zachary Abuza tweeted in response to Gen. Prayuth's question.

"The regime has appeared both paranoid and silly, stabbing rather blindly at any perceived threats," said David Streckfuss, an American author and analyst in Thailand.

"It has banned protests, Hollywood-inspired salutes, and seditious distribution of sandwiches, or reading of Orwell's '1984' in public," Mr. Streckfuss wrote in the Tuesday (Sept. 23) online issue of Cultural Anthropology, published at North Carolina's Duke University.

The junta detains people who defiantly salute with three fingers, inspired by "The Hunger Games" movies, or eat sandwiches in public, because that food became an unusual anti-coup symbol.

People are also detained for silently reading George Orwell's dystopian novel in public.

International travel news stories warn tourists not to bring "1984" in their luggage.

The regime "hopes to create a neo-absolutist state, where democracy is forever banished," Mr. Streckfuss said.

Meanwhile, Gen. Prayuth's "12 Values" will be mandatory indoctrination for elementary students to memorize and recite aloud, starting in November, in front of Thailand's red-white-and-blue flag at schools.

Those values emphasize "obedience" and other know-your-place slogans.

Thailand's intimidated local media, however, is now poking back.

"A dictatorial leader loves the sound of his own voice, because every lie becomes melodic and every bit of baloney is a gem," Bangkok Post editor and columnist Kong Rithdee boldly wrote on Saturday (Sept. 20).

"The decree that criminalizes other people's speeches and glorifies our own...is absolutism of the worst kind," Mr. Kong said.

Local news stories occasionally describe Gen. Prayuth as "Dear Leader," in satirical comparisons to North Korea's Kim Jong-un who uses extensive propaganda to expand his grip.

The junta earlier told foreign correspondents to stop reporting the words "coup," "detention," "arrested," "prisoners" or "destroying democracy".

On Sept. 18, Gen. Prayuth asked Thai journalists to sing his "Returning Happiness to the People" propaganda song which is repeatedly broadcast on radio and TV.

His stern face also fills TV screens each week during his lengthy lectures.

The coup leader expressed unhappiness, however, about photographs of his face appearing in the street and on Internet.

"You must refrain from putting my photo on the streets," Gen. Prayuth told his hand-picked, unanimously supportive National Legislative Assembly, which most analysts and media describe as his "rubber stamp
parliament."

"There have been people with ill intention altering photos of the NCPO leader [Gen. Prayuth], and posting them on social media, in order to mislead the public," NCPO spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree told a news conference on Sept. 16.

"It is very inappropriate. It should not be done," Col. Winthai said. "I am sure that the people are aware it is an effort to smear Gen. Prayuth."

A new anonymous blasphemy against thin-skinned Gen. Prayuth appeared online on Sept. 18, showing his face dolled up with blue eye shadow, red lipstick and a brunette wig atop a bloated woman's body in a
bright blue bikini, standing on a sunny beach.

The bikini jibe appeared after Gen. Prayuth spoke about British tourists Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24 who were murdered on Koh Tao beach on Sept. 15.

"They think our country is beautiful and safe, so they can do whatever, and can wear a bikini to wherever," Gen. Prayuth said in a nationwide broadcast on Sept. 17.

"But I ask, will you be spared if you wear a bikini in Thailand? Only if you are not pretty."

International media and online posts blasted Prime Minister Prayuth's speech.

"Thai Prime Minister Insults Western Girls," the front page of the British newspaper, Daily Mail, reported on Sept. 18.

"I wear bikinis on the beach and that doesn't mean I want to be fucked, raped or get harmed," a 21-year-old Thai female student of economics at Bangkok's prestigious Thammasat University tweeted to her
1,000 followers.

Gen. Prayuth later apologized.

Alleged financial crimes meanwhile marred his anti-corruption stance after reports emerged that microphones and other equipment, freshly installed in Gen. Prayuth's prime ministerial office, appeared to be expensively overpriced.

Gen. Prayuth responded by yanking out the equipment and promising a quiet investigation.

*************

Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, "Ceremonies and Regalia," in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

His websites are

http://asia-correspondent.tumblr.com

http://www.flickr.com/photos/animists/sets

https://gumroad.com/l/RHwa

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