As usual, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha stood up in front of a microphone in front of an audience at Government House on Monday. Except he wasn’t answering questions, because he was mere cutout.
“Whoever wants to take photos and ask about heated politics and conflicts, just ask this guy,” Prayut said, indicating a mounted life-sized picture of him known as a “standee”. He then waved goodbye and immediately left for his office.
It was disappointing for the parents and children who had come to see the premier in the lead-up to Children’s Day on Saturday. Having no other choice, they took turns taking selfies with the standee.
It has become a annual tradition to put up standees of Prayut – dressed in a suit and tie, and performing various gestures, from extending a handshake to figuring a “heart” sign – all around Government House on Children’s Day for his young guests to take photos and play around.
While refusing to answer questions on politics, the real Prayut did address 785 outstanding children recruited by the Education Ministry.
He said education was a crucial part of human resources development and it was important to engage more young people in politics.
“We have to revamp the whole politics,” he said “We have to engage young people with potential to get in line with 21st-century democracy.
“We also shouldn’t be afraid of politics. We are politics. Everyone is involved in politics,” said Prayut, who recently announced himself to be a politician who used to be a soldier.
“I want stable government with good governance. There are some good politicians but we have to create a new generation of politicians,” he said, adding that “the old generations are aged but also experienced”.
Young politicians are no strangers to the junta government – even though some of them have ended up gaining the attention of the security forces.
In 2015, high school student Parit Chiawarak was escorted out of a Prayut-hosted forum after raising a banner calling on the premier to “educate children to not be corrupt and to be rational instead of memorising civil duties”.
A year later, 13 activists from the New Democracy Movement were detained after distributing pamphlets explaining disadvantages in the draft of the new charter – an act deemed to violate the junta’s ban on political gatherings of more than five people.
Student activist Jatupat Boonpattararaksa was last year found guilty of lese majeste for sharing a BBC article. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
“Laws are meant to keep society at peace, not to destroy anyone. I don’t use laws to harm anyone,” Prayut said yesterday. “Everyone has to be cautious with their practices already because everything is conducted by laws.”
He also told students to take case studies from foreign countries, where there are “more rapid and violent changes” than in Thailand.
The premier asked the audience, “Who has maintained the country so that we can become democratic today? We have to move forward to a sustainable democracy in the near future.”