Thai army launches PR offensive

After seizing power, Thailand's army offers free movie tickets, music concerts and even FIFA World Cup to win hearts and minds.

Thai army goes on a charm offensive
Thai army goes on a charm offensive

The Thai army took a series of steps this week aimed at downplaying the recent military coup, which toppled a democratically elected government. According to reports it has put together a public relations ‘taskforce’, whose objective is to win public approval for military rule. This week the junta ordered TV regulators to show viewers the FIFA World Cup for free. Thousands of Thais thronged cinemas on Sunday morning to grab free tickets to an epic film featuring a medieval king. The military authorities have also organised a number of events across the country offering free food, music, and haircuts—and even a pageant featuring young female soldiers. The military seems willing to spend generously to win hearts and minds. It is promising to subsidise farmers, to revive ambitious infrastructure spending plans and to cap the costs of basic foods. The junta says it simply wants to bring back "happiness" to the people.

Enjoy your vacation

Hundreds have been detained since the putsch; most of these were close to ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Some of those detained have reportedly been asked to think of their detention as "a vacation of sorts". Others have been told to re-imagine these events as a "courteous coup." "We just want to provide them a cooling off period in order for them to think over the situation and we don’t want them to have any other influences from outside," said the junta spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak.

Dont call it a coup

Having used the threat of military trial to stifle criticism of the junta in the Thai press, schools and on the streets, Army Chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha has gone on a diplomatic charm offensive, trying to explain to the rest of the world the military’s decision to take power. He has also asked the media to make a few tweaks.

Last week the military-run administrative body the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) asked local and foreign journalists not to use a certain word in reference to the military takeover. "Don’t call it a coup, " said Sukondhapatipak. "The only thing that happened in Thailand is the change of the administration of this country."

The junta has used a combination of tactics to make its point. It has exercised both persuasion and coercion. Its spokesman has been careful on the choice of words. Instead of "summoned", for example, Sukondhapatipak uses the word "invited," and rather than "detained" he uses the phrase "remain in army accommodation."

Soft exterior, hard interior 

Meanwhile, the army continues to show little tolerance for public display of dissent. According to The Asian Correspondent a protestor who held up a paper reading, "The coup-makers fear A4 paper" was bundled away by police. Earlier in the week a woman was hustled screaming into a ‘taxi’, allegedly by four plainclothes police officers. Her crime? Holding up the three-fingered salute as depicted in the Hollywood movie The Hunger Games.

All for stability

In return for political quiescence and the curbing of civil liberties, the junta claims to offer ‘stability’ of a kind. Thailand had been rocked by protests pitting pro-Shinawatra (the ousted Prime Minister) red shirts  against the opposition yellow shirts in the weeks before the army seized power in May. The military insists it intervened to prevent the political crisis from escalating and has promised to return the country to civilian rule. For now, its hearts and mind campaign is focused on shoring support for its actions.

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