After ending his speech on his weekly TV programme with "miss you" on Friday, junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha's speech to introduce and promote the National Reform Committee yesterday was another quite an entertaining show.
“I don’t know if people listened attentively to what I said [in previous programmes],” he said. “Some people criticised me about my shirt collar not being as neat as before. I am not a celebrity,” he said during the address.
While he spoke in his usual strong, tough manner when talking about problems that need to be addressed, he also amused the people, who cheered him from time to time.
For about one hour he talked about almost everything that needed to be reformed, from city planning to public transportation and energy. The audience applauded loudly when he talked about education.
“Students don’t have textbooks. They’ve got only sheets. I don’t know what the Teachers’ Council of Thailand has been doing,” he said.
He said students were made to work too hard, with many having tutorial classes on top of their normal classes.
“Children nowadays don’t know how to do housework,” he said. “Parents see them overwhelmed with homework until 10pm, so they don’t want to tell their kids to do it [housework].
“The father helps his kid with the homework, and the next day the kid tells him the answers were all wrong.” Prayuth added to laughter.
Another remark that attracted a cheer was when he spoke about garbage sorting.
“What’s the point of garbage sorting in bins when the garbage collectors later put it all in the same truck?” he said.
When Prayuth said he did not lead the coup due to a thirst of power, he interacted with the audience.
“Any of the people in the front row here can be a prime minister. Anyone wants to take the post?” he said and then mentioned Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul.
“We [the National Council for Peace and Order and military officers] haven’t had a holiday since the coup,” he said. “Families are almost broken. Our wives are going to leave us. How much is the daily allowance?” He turned to ask his subordinates. “It’s Bt400.”
Former red-shirt leader Veerakan Musigapong did not seem to enjoy Prayuth’s joke about the legal cases faced by him.
“What do you say, Brother Veera? How many cases? … Let it be up to the courts to decide then,” Prayuth said.
Veerakan later told the media he was surprised to be a subject of Prayuth’s humour as they were not close friends. He said he attended the event following the military’s invitation although he was not so eager to come.
The event was held yesterday morning at Army Club and broadcast live on TV Pool. Among the over 1,000 audience members were the NCPO’s key men, high-ranking military officers and government officials.
Farmers from the provinces and representatives from political parties and political movements also attended.
Prayuth explained the reasons behind national reform, the timeline and process of selecting National Reform Committee members.
He also said the nomination of NRC candidates to work on the 11 areas of national reform would open on Thursday and the final list of NRC members was expected to be announced on October 2.
“Today is historic. We’ve never had such a national reform since we changed the political system [from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy]. My apologies again for having to stand here,” he said, adding the problems that had plagued the country had led to the coup.
He said many times that he did not want to stage the coup. In his 37 years in military, he had never breached a rule as he believed soldiers must be disciplined, he said.
The problems he raised included corruption and political conflicts that resulted in bloodshed.
“If we cannot solve the problems, we cannot join the Asean [community] and Asean cannot have negotiating power with the super powers,” he said.
“I am not any better than any of you. But I have the conscience [of thinking about public interest before personal interest]. I know you also have such a conscience. I respect all of you.”
He noted that the timing of national reform, which kicked off this month, coincided with HM the Queen’s birthday.
However, he said His Majesty the King had nothing to do with the coup and his name should not be associated with it and he should not be accused of supporting it.
“His Majesty has given the ruling power to all the governments. No matter if he agrees or disagrees, he always gives us the governing power,” Prayuth said.
“I’ve never seen him refuse to endorse [a proposed constitution],” he said.