SINCE becoming Army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has insisted many times that he is a man of good humour. This was despite occasional harsh words with the media and emotional comments and some complaints about news reports.
The second programme of his weekly TV show, as head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), last Friday seemed to reveal more of his personality.
In the first episode the previous week, he explained reasons to justify the military coup and outlined the NCPO’s rough plan and timeframe for the national ‘roadmap’. This time, in a more colorful manner, he spelt out his reasons and asked for people’s understanding and cooperation.
The reactions, seen in social media, varied. Certainly he could not change the minds of those who disagree with the coup. But people who back the NCPO seemed to have thrown him more support.
Some said he deserved a chance to be prime minister.
It cannot be denied that Thais can be emotional about politics nowadays. The idea of having an army chief as premier would not have entered people’s minds for many years.
However, one of the reasons some people appear to welcome Prayuth as national leader is that the Army chief does not have the personality of politicians, who many believe are untrustworthy. They also said Prayuth’s down-to-earth personality was seen during his speech this time.
In one part he urged anti-coup protesters to make a brief sacrifice and stop rallying and flashing the three-finger gesture. He said Thai society was unique and Thais should not do that – follow foreign ideas and perform gimmicks from foreign movies. This was widely shared and discussed, often in an amusing way.
He even presented his own idea that the group should just show the three-finger sign at home and instead all should show a five-finger sign.
“Nowadays we must show five fingers. Two for the country, as the country is more important than anything. The other three are for [our] religion, the King and the people,” he said.
Actually when he first started his address on Friday, he said the NCPO “respects” the democratic system – an admission that sounded odd for a coup leader.
“We respect the democratic process. We came to [take governing power] because we see that the administration in three parts – the administrative, legislative and judicial branches – were being destroyed. It’s necessary that we save this democracy. We came to create strength like adding the bricks, rocks, concrete and metal to what was going to be torn down so that it is reconstructed, for a complete democracy like everybody desires,” he said.
He went on to say that many people did not respect the law, therefore the military had to come and enforce the “strictest laws”.
He talked about many areas the NCPO would “manage” and make them take shape. They included reforms in politics, the tax system, energy, the environment, migrant workers and cracking down on violence and influential people, gambling, drugs and weapons.
“If any [government] project contains corruption, [people responsible] must face legal action according to the existing legal process,” he said.
Overall, Prayuth asked the people to trust him and the junta.
“The NCPO certainly has no interest [from taking the governing power] as we come to fix those [problems]… Don’t believe that anybody will be able to order the NCPO chief to order this and that for them. No way, I won’t meet with anybody,” he said.
All people, especially the anti-coup groups, were asked to trust him and sacrifice their freedom and rights – and they deserved to see proof from his side – as there are questions in many people’s minds on whether reform is possible after a military coup, and whether this will be an effective way to achieve real democracy and solve the country’s problems.
Prayuth must prove that all the sacrifice brings results.
At least, he must prove that the NCPO is transparent. And a way to start may be to declare the assets of key members of the junta. He must also stick to the principles he has announced.
Prayuth needs to prove if he actually is a real man of good humour – not one who craves power, or is a clown.