Junta now an entrenched aspect of Thai society

Junta leader and former army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Junta leader and former army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK • On Friday evenings in Thailand, sandwiched between the evening news and a popular soap opera, is a prime-time programme that has been running for three years, ever since the military took power in a May 22, 2014, coup.

Called Sustainable Development From A Royal Philosophy, it stars junta leader and former army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha speaking on topics such as the virtues of modesty and the state of the economy.

The military has always played a prominent role in Thai life. But Mr Prayut's show is just one of many examples of how embedded the junta has become in Thai society.

Thailand's military government has acknowledged it wants to weaken political parties and maintain permanent influence over future elected governments, partly through a new Constitution approved by the King last month.

But data compiled by Reuters shows that the military is not just trying to influence Thailand's political life. It is leaving an imprint on nearly every institution of Thai society, with brass hats far more entrenched in senior positions than under previous military governments.

The military now controls 143 out of 250 parliamentary seats.

Under the previous junta after the 2006 coup, the military held 67 out of 242 seats. The Cabinet is stacked with soldiers. Out of the 36 Cabinet members, 12 have a military background. In 2006, only four military officers were among the 37 Cabinet members.

The military is also entwined with the powerful monarchy - the name of Mr Prayut's show is derived from the philosophy of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died last October after seven decades on the throne.

More than half of the 13 members of the Privy Council, the body that advises new King Maha Vajiralongkorn - himself a former soldier - are military men. It was just under half in the previous council.

Cinema and television stations are increasingly showing pro-military themes and the school curriculum features military slogans.

"The military coup of 2014 offered the armed forces the chance to put in place a wider footprint and they are doing so," said Professor Paul Chambers at Naresuan University and an expert on the Thai military. "A younger generation of retired military officers are, since the end of 2016, sitting on the Privy Council."

The public does not appear too concerned. The government says military recruitment numbers doubled this year from the previous year and attribute that to public approval of their hardline tactics in breaking a political impasse that had persisted for years.

Polls backed by the military government show that Thais are content with military rule, although no such polls have been published in recent months.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2017, with the headline 'Junta now an entrenched aspect of Thai society'. Print Edition | Subscribe