Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha swapped his stern demeanour for smiles yesterday as he chatted cheerfully with eight members of pop-star idols BNK48, who visited Government House.
The girls, together with child star Taichi Ponthanan, dropped by to help with the launch of Happy Family Radio FM 105.
“He looks just like he does on television, only bigger and kinder,” said the group’s Cherprang Areekul after an hour-long meeting with the junta premier. “He told us to develop ourselves, be role models for young people and be determined in what we do.”
“We would also wanted to encourage him because he works very hard for Thailand’s progress,” the group added. “We believe what the PM does is good and will bring positive changes.”
Prayut’s meeting with the country’s most popular girl group, whose Facebook page has attracted over 417,000 likes, has been talked about since the plan emerged last week.
With the government’s invitation to the stars of period TV drama “BuppheSanNivas” earlier this month, the junta’s PR moves are being viewed as part of a plan to boost |its popularity as its 4th anniversary in unelected power looms next month.
They are being carried out in tandem with what appears to be a new and more compromising attitude towards politicians from Prayut, especially toward local, influential figures, ahead of the election now set for next February.
Like its sister brand AKB48, from Japan, BNK48 has adopted an open and easily accessible imaged by engaging with social media and making numerous appearances at public events. But “getting close” to the young idols can mean different things.
Despite their cute, down-to-earth personalities, any touching – even of their hands – is normally out of the question for fans. Those wishing to do so have to pay for merchandise and wait in long lines for the chance of a quick handshake with their favourite girls.
As such Prayut’s lingering handshakes with the eight girls and lengthy chats raised eyebrows among social media users, especially the “ota” or die-hard fans.
“He broke the constitution before so why can’t he break such a small rule?” one Twitter user said sarcastically.
It was later revealed, however, that the group’s manager was the one who stage-managed the handshake.
The PM could count himself lucky: usually any physical contact from fans is discouraged to prevent possible harassment of the singers.