BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) General Prayut Chan-o-cha's field trip to Pattani and Songkhla in the south was meant to boost the popularity of the prime minister and his junta government - but instead of touching moments, local people welcomed him with yells and confrontation.
While the junta might be popular among some southern people, the government's policies on the fishery and rubber tree industries are a major problem for local workers.
Fishermen have to obey Article 44 orders to curb their work in line with international standards, while rubber prices plunge every year. Rain did not smooth Prayut's journey on Monday - he had been due to fly to Pattani but instead had to go to Songkhla instead, then travel by car back to Pattani, which delayed his arrival by about two hours. Some locals felt the inconvenience was good because "Prayut would now know how much we in the South have to endure".
Paranyu Charoen, a 34-year-old fisherman, was one of the disgruntled locals who went to file a petition with the premier. He told the PM in a loud voice: "I've suffered from your policy that we can sail out to fish for only 220 days a year. I've faced deficits in my fishery business."
An angry Prayut replied: "Don't argue with me. Don't raise your voice against me. Do you understand that? I'm listening to you. You can just tell me nicely. You can't pressurise me." The premier yesterday apologised for his outburst via his team's Facebook page.
A Songkhla-Pattani group, which opposes the proposed Thepa coal-fired power station, gathered near a hotel where Prayut was staying in the hope of filing a petition with the premier, but the attempt ended in a confrontation with several people being injured.
Representatives of rubber farmers from four districts also filed a petition with Prayut. They asked if the premier knew that rubber farmers were "suffering greatly" and if he "thought of a fair rubber price suitable for the current economy situation". They had to be escorted from the hotel.
"Plant coconut trees instead, so you will be able to sell the fruit in the future and make a profit," Prayut said. "They only take a few years to grow. You can also leave them to your children. Today, we are still importing coconut products from elsewhere."