PRESSURE from foreign leaders for Thai democratisation and elections are nothing new for junta chief Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha but his choice of a designer scarf during his visit to London this week captured more public attention than his diplomatic meeting with UK counterpart Theresa May.
Netizens accused Prayut of hypocrisy, alluding to his nationalistic campaign earlier this year. The propagator of Thai Niyom – literally Thaism in English – was pictured in the British capital on Thursday wearing a Louis Vuitton Jhelam scarf in black to match expensive-looking sunglasses and a vest.
The rest of the economic team, which included Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, accompanying Prayut was dressed modestly in a white shirt and trousers.
The photos were released online by government officials but were later removed after coming under criticism on the Internet and social media.
Some commentators were sarcastic, saying the scarf, which displayed the distinctive LV logo and reportedly cost more than Bt20,000, was ‘nice’ but perhaps he had borrowed it from a friend. The dig was a subtle reminder of the excuse offered by Prayut’s deputy and junta number two Prawit Wongsuwan when he was accused of possessing a large number of luxury wristwatches that were not declared to the authorities.
Others questioned: “Why does he seem to be the only one troubled by the weather? And FYI, it’s summer now in London.” The temperature during daytime when Prayut took a walk on Wednesday was about 26 degrees Celsius.
Government Spokesman Weerachon Sukondhapatipak yesterday told Government House reporters in a chatroom message that the PM had been unwell and had been advised to wear the items to keep warm. He, however, did not say why such an expensive scarf was necessary to keep the strong soldier warm.
Prayut told the Thai community on Thursday that he was upset with such nit-picking on social media. He said he had dressed different from other officials during the stroll that day since he was not feeling well. “I just wore it but was not aware of the brand. I don’t know what’s the brand but it’s not so expensive,” he said. “The next time I will wear Pha Khao Ma [a traditional loincloth],” he said.
This is Prayut’s first official trip to Europe since coming to power after the 2014 coup, when diplomatic relations between Thailand and the free world got downgraded.
Prayut yesterday headed to Paris for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron next Monday. The junta leader is expected to discuss democracy and the upcoming election.
But the junta chief may have reasons to feel uneasy. Like London, Paris is also home to a great number of anti-junta activists, including those living in exile fearing persecution.
After news got out about Prayut’s trip, they took to social media promising they would stage a demonstration against the junta chief.
As Prayut paid May a visit on Wednesday, he met with both supporters and dissidents in London.
Led by political critic Giles Ungpakorn, who faces a lese majeste charge and now lives in exile, the protesters held a big banner that read: “Prayut not welcome.”
Giles told reporters that as Prayut had come to power via a coup, he lacked the legitimacy to make any decision on behalf of the Thai people.
Supporters, meanwhile, held banners showing their backing and encouraged the junta leader to stay in power longer.
In addition to Prayut’s visit this week, London has also welcomed two former premiers, Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra.
Thaksin threw a little birthday party for his sister Yingluck, who turned 51, in London on June 21, a day after Prayut’s arrival. Prayut was apparently not invited even though he had served as Army chief under Yingluck before he ousted her in 2014.
Prayut yesterday left London for France where he met with Airbus executive Guillaume Faury in Toulouse before witnessing a signing an agreement between Airbus and Thai Airways to set up a maintenance, repairs and overhaul centre in Thailand.