ArrowArtboardCreated with Sketch.Title ChevronTitle ChevronIcon FacebookIcon LinkedinIcon Mail ContactPath LayerIcon MailPositive ArrowIcon PrintIcon Twitter
Politics

Cash, concerts and censorship in post-coup Thailand

Looking to gain the public's trust, one song at a time.

BANGKOK -- Thailand's rice farmers recently reaped a welcome harvest -- cash.

     "It's all thanks to the military," said an exuberant grower from Ubon Ratchathani Province in the country's northeast as he picked up 107,366 baht ($3,359) from a farmers cooperative bank this month.

     In the third in a series of articles on Thailand's recent coup, The Nikkei looks at the junta's approach to winning hearts and minds.

     The man was one of thousands of farmers owed money under a rice-subsidy scheme introduced to much fanfare by Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister until the Constitutional Court ordered her to step down in early May.

     Political turmoil held up the payments for seven months until the military seized power on May 22. Coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha made paying farmers their due a top priority. Over three weeks, 90 billion baht was handed out to 800,000 households.

     "Backed by the king, the military is more trustworthy than politicians only looking out for their own interests," gushed the farmer.

     Army-affiliated Channel 5 television broadcasts scene after scene of happy farmers, portraying the coup as meant "to save the people."

     As part of its "bring happiness back to Thailand" campaign, the military staged a concert here on May 31. Against a backdrop of the Chao Phraya river, uniformed women soldiers belted out the latest hit songs to a cheering audience. Visitors were treated to free food and health checks.

     One young man at the concert was accompanying his parents, whom he described as opponents of the political movement of Thaksin Shinawatra, a business tycoon, ex-prime minister and brother of Yingluck.

     "If more people take part, both pro- and anti-Thaksin, it will help ease social tensions," the man said.

     The junta has also offered a free screening of a big-budget historical film about King Naresuan and put all World Cup games on regular television.

The day Facebook went black

But even as it dangles carrots, the junta is also brandishing the stick. People across Thailand were unable to connect to Facebook for about half an hour on the afternoon of May 28. Rumors began flying that the military had blocked access to the social network.

     The junta blamed technical difficulties. But on June 7, a senior executive at Norway's Telenor, the top shareholder in Thailand's second-largest mobile carrier, Total Access Communication, told a Norwegian newspaper that the junta had ordered the Facebook blackout. Telenor later apologized for the executive's comment. But the episode only deepened suspicions that the blockade was a test for when the junta might really want to shut down social media.

     Some 26 million Thais -- about 40% of the population -- use Facebook, and 24 million use the chat application Line. Time was when a junta could simply seize control of broadcasters and telecoms. But Prayuth and company must contend with Internet-savvy critics who could be anywhere and everywhere.

     For a while, social activist Sombat Boonngamanong flouted a May 23 order by the junta to turn himself in. "Catch me if you can," he taunted the generals on his Facebook page.

     He used the social network to organize protests against the coup and led his pursuers on a wild goose chase. But they caught up with him in the end. "I've been arrested," Sombat wrote in his last post on June 5. He is now facing trial in a military court.

     Meanwhile, a ballad titled "Return Happiness to Thailand" written by none other than Gen. Prayuth himself has gone viral.

     "Let us be the ones who step in, before it is too late / To bring back love, how long will it take?"

     The song asks Thais for "a little more time" and "trust." But for the many like Sombat, such faith will not come easily.

Sponsored Content

About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this monthThis is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia;
the most dynamic market in the world.

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia

Get trusted insights from experts within Asia itself.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 1 month for $0.99

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this month

This is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia; the most
dynamic market in the world
.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 3 months for $9

Offer ends January 31st

Your trial period has expired

You need a subscription to...

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers and subscribe

Your full access to Nikkei Asia has expired

You need a subscription to:

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers
NAR on print phone, device, and tablet media

Nikkei Asian Review, now known as Nikkei Asia, will be the voice of the Asian Century.

Celebrate our next chapter
Free access for everyone - Sep. 30

Find out more