Unfriend: Thai junta leader receives social media pummelling

Thailand's premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha's persona was displayed on his newly launched Facebook page in a post asking for "suggestions" from his followers on his government's policies, on Oct 14, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) - An onslaught of negative feedback flooded the official Facebook page of Thailand's premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha a day after it was launched over the weekend, backfiring on the junta leader's attempts to get "suggestions" on the social media platform.

As Thailand counts down to much-anticipated elections following four years of military rule, former general Prayut has started portraying a softer side to the public.

The gruff former general has incited intense speculation over his political aspirations through his frequent public appearances and photo opportunities - despite insisting he has no interest in standing in the election next year.

On Sunday, the premier's man-of-the-people persona was displayed on his newly launched Facebook page in a post asking for "suggestions" from his followers on his government's policies.

The reaction was swift, garnering more than 9,000 comments in less than 24 hours, with the majority of them negative.

"You are a burden for this country. You are a deadweight of the country," wrote commenter Kraisorn Chuakram. "If you don't resign, let's make the election free and fair."

Many also pointed out the hypocrisy of launching an online "campaign" while parties are still under a partial political ban, which bars them from public politicking or holding rallies.

Sweeping restrictions on political parties and campaigns were imposed after the military ousted Yingluck Shinawatra's government in a coup four years ago, ushering in the most draconian Thai government in a generation.

"Banning others from doing campaign via social media but opening a Facebook account for himself?" said Suvipan Jampa in a comment that garnered 1,300 reactions. "He is thick-skinned."

Some were more direct in their condemnation. "I will vote for Pheu Thai in the next general election," said Facebook user Sichai Patthana.

The Pheu Thai party, led by former premier Ms Yingluck before she was deposed, is associated with the Shinawatra clan - a powerful and wealthy family that enjoys widespread support and has won every Thai general election through its proxies and affiliated parties since 2001.

Puttipong Punnakanta, deputy secretary general to the premier, played down the social media push - which also includes a Twitter page and an official website, sleekly designed to showcase Mr Prayut's achievements and personal history.

The website, which uses the slogan "Stability, prosperity, sustainability", also features a survey section where visitors can select their favourite policies by the junta-led government.

Mr Puttipong told AFP that Mr Prayut's social media outreach is "nothing related to a political campaign" and is simply a way to "communicate" with the Thai public.

"It's fine that people have negative comments or different points of views, but they should talk in a polite way," Mr Puttipong told AFP. "I think the prime minister is fine with it."

One Facebook commenter named Karnokporn Pongsattapichate voiced her "love and faith" in the junta leader amid the social media pummelling.

"Stay as long as possible. We are afraid the bad guys will come back and burn down the country again," she wrote. Her comment got just 11 likes.

A nationwide vote is required to take place by May and senior military leaders have floated a Feb 24 election date.

However, a new constitution written by the generals will see it asserting a strong influence over any future civilian governments with a junta-appointed upper house and a provision that administrations must stick to their "national strategy" for the next 20 years.

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