Thai junta prescribes 'national happiness'

2014-06-06 13:18
Thai Army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha looks on during a press conference at the Army Club in Bangkok. (Pornchai kittiwongsakul, AFP)

Thai Army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha looks on during a press conference at the Army Club in Bangkok. (Pornchai kittiwongsakul, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Bangkok - With free meals, music concerts and dancing soldiers, Thailand's junta is waging a propaganda offensive to encourage "national happiness" following a military coup that has severely restricted civil liberties.

Since seizing power on 22 May from an elected government, the army has banned public protests, censored the media and summoned hundreds of politicians, activists and academics for questioning.

The army, which has ruled out elections for at least a year, says its intervention was needed to end months of bloody political unrest.

And now the coup-makers are trying to portray the softer side of military rule, with propaganda programmes on the television and festivities in the streets.

"Thai people, like me, have probably not been happy for nine years, but since 22 May there is happiness," army commander-in-chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha said in a recent televised address to the nation.

While the coup has its supporters, particularly among the Bangkok-based elite who loathed the previous government, the happiness campaign masks what activists say is a severe deterioration in human rights.

"I think it is mere propaganda," said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai.

"It is blunt and too obvious."

But for the hundreds of Thais who attended an army-hosted festival this week in Bangkok, the spin doctors' medicine appears to be working.

"People coming here today are happy and today society started to smile," said Chutamat Kritcharoen, aged 45, while a group of young soldiers showed off their muscles on stage to a delirious crowd.

"Happiness is coming back to the people."

'Land of crisis'

Arunee Omsin, aged 59, said she was most happy about being able to venture out onto the streets without fear of a repeat of the gunfire and grenade attacks that shook Bangkok for months before the coup.

"We want the Thai style of atmosphere back. In the past people called us the Land of Smiles, but now we have become the Land of Crisis," she said while queuing up for a free meal of rice and omelette.

Nearby, children stroked a horse from a military cavalry regiment, while several Thais enjoyed free medical check-ups and a young woman posed for a photo with a soldier in camouflage.

"This event is seen as a fresh start for Thai society so people can face each other and talk, using music as a medium, or with other activities," said Colonel Sombat Thanyawan, a cavalry regiment commander.

With a carnival atmosphere and free food, the festivities are reminiscent of the anti-government protests that precipitated the coup.

The demonstrators, drawn largely from Bangkok and the south, succeeded in their aim of toppling the government of ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra, who is the younger sister of divisive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-populist politician who lives in self-exile to avoid prison for corruption, is popular in the northern half of the country but is hated by many in Bangkok and the south.

While the army has presented itself as a neutral mediator in the long-running crisis, its takeover of power and plans to draw up a new constitution are exactly what the opposition protesters wanted.

'National unhappiness'

With Thai society deeply divided since a 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin, the prospects for a victory for the generals in the propaganda war appear uncertain.

Dozens of people were killed in a military crackdown on pro-Thaksin rallies in 2010.

"In view of the political crisis over the past decade, Thais have been collectively unhappy and the military correctly sees this," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, political analyst at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

"But national unhappiness cannot be remedied merely through promotional campaigns," he added. "It has to be tackled at its roots, at the sources of social divide and political conflict."

As part of its campaign the junta also plans to set up "reconciliation" centres around the country, although details are still sketchy.

The organised activities are accompanied by tight control of national media, who are obliged to regularly interrupt their normal broadcasting to transmit the junta's messages.

Behind the happy images, anyone caught protesting against the coup in public risks trial in a military court and possible imprisonment.

"This is a carrot and stick military media campaign," said Chambers.

While Bangkok residents may welcome the festivities, "rural people may not buy it hook, line and sinker," he added.
Read more on:    yingluck shinawatra  |  thaksin shinawatra  |  prayuth chan-ocha  |  thailand
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Joburg hot spots for cocktails, craft beer, tapas and wine!

It’s the season to be jolly – so we’ve rounded up some new Joburg hot spots!

 
 

I love summer.24

The craziest deaths of 2014
How to make this a sensual, sexy summer!
This is what South Africans Googled in 2014!
This hilarious song is your new holiday anthem

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be emotionally defensive or reserved today. You need to step up today as there may be extra responsibilities to deal with....read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.