Of late, the man who has been answering political questions is Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong, nicknamed Big Dang. Meanwhile, Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha, nicknamed Uncle Tuu, has been roaming about the kingdom ingratiating himself to the people, in his usual audacious yellow raja-pattern shirt, representing his stance for traditions.
Uncle Tuu was seen holding a schoolgirl in his arms, a child who professed that the junta is the best prime minister, because he’s the only prime minister she has ever met. He was seen doing the limbo rock, also at a school, amidst cheers and laughter of students, teachers and his entourage. He was then seen climbing onto a rice wagon to salute and announce in front cameras, “I am agent 007.” If he has said anything with a hint of politic, it was to grumble about how the people aren’t appreciating all the wonderful things he has done for the country.
It is as if, for the past week, Big Dang is the national leader, while Uncle Tuu is the comedic sideshow.
Under the thick haze that’s choking the life out of Bangkok, there’s a real political struggle underneath. One scandal after another, the junta government might as well check into a home for battered women. Furthermore, the Thaksin Shinawatra political marketing machine has been relentless, and if there’s anything the Thaksin-istas are good at, it’s political marketing.
Elections are delayed for the fifth time, and the people are restless. There are demonstrations against the delay, small though they may be, still demonstrations nonetheless. If it wasn’t for the drama over the national football team and Thai K-pop star Lisa Blackpink, the good people of the Land of Smog may not have other outlets to express their outrage, and focus their anger on the junta.
At this point in time, whatever Uncle Tuu has to say to the people, he would only be mocked. Once upon of time, he commanded fear. However politically incorrect this may sound, fear commands respect. It’s basic human nature. It might be better to be respected out of love, but fear works too. Especially if you wear a uniform, hold a gun and ride a tank, fear might work even better than love.
The problem is, these days, outside of those who worship the Cult of Uncle Tuu, the people in general see him as comedic fodder. The credibility simply is not there.
Big Dang, on the other hand, is no comedic fodder. If there’s anyone to remind the people of “respect to the monarchy.” If there’s anyone to warn the people of “chaos in the streets”. If there’s anyone to suggest to the people “or else…” Big Dang has the credibility to remind everyone that “this is Thailand”.
Big Dang, who upon taking up the post of army chief in September of last year, told the country that he does not “…rule out another coup d’tat.”
But demonstrations aren’t the junta’s main concern. Fear of tanks, guns and dusty air are enough to keep most people at home. Elections are the main worry. Besides, most people really don’t want chaos in the streets, because then there would definitely be no elections.
Here’s the most important point: Uncle Tuu’s days are numbered. He has to win the elections. If he doesn’t, he’s out. Just like the Democrats.
A quick history: In 2008, the Democrats came to power in a parliamentary coup, where Thaksin’s MPs and coalition partners, namely the Friends of Newin Group, defected to form a coalition government with Abhsit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thuagsuban. After two years in government, if the Democrats had won the 2011 general elections, then history would have turned out differently. But the Democrats lost, and so Abhisit went on to write a book, while Suthep picked up a whistle.
If democracy doesn’t favor, then let the tanks roll in.
Come 2014, it was Uncle Tuu’s turn to battle the Thaksin-istas. The first battle was easy. Roll the tanks in, everyone gets a day off, and voila, from the general who used to walk behind a woman, Yingluck Shinawatra, Uncle Tuu became the general who shook hands with Donald Trump and Theresa May.
But as already stated, the first battle was child-play. The second battle, similar for the Democrats in 2011, is at the voting booths. Here’s the real test. If Uncle Tuu can’t win, even with 250 handpicked senators at his beck and call, then he’ll be relegated to playing with grandchildren and writing songs no one will ever be forced to listen to again. As such, Uncle Tuu needs to do everything he can to make sure of victory at the polls, including delaying elections for the fifth time. As more important anything, he wants to write more songs that everyone will be forced to listen to.
If Pheu Thai becomes government again, what would that mean? Will there be whistling in the streets again, conveniently prompting the tanks to roll in? A flashback of 2014? Not necessarily. It depends on the relationship between the army chief and the new prime minister. As I’ve written before, the Thai-style democracy is where the civilian government is submissive to the generals. So if Big Dang can keep the civilian government on a leash, things should be fine. But if the civilian government refuses the leash, as happened prior to the coup of 2006, well then… round and round we go…History is often a tragic comedy on repeats.
This is why Big Dang is now doing the talking, while Uncle Tuu is doing the limbo rock and pretending to be James Bond. The former to establish authority. The latter to win as many votes as possible.
Good cop, bad cop? Or, tough cop, funny cop?
My heartfelt New Year Wish for Thailand is that somehow magically these tiresome army clowns will disappear in the void but looking at past history that is unlikely to happen.