PM Prayut hosts J-pop band ‘to woo voters’

BANGKOK • Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha became ota (a “big fan”, in Japanese) for AKB48 on Thursday as the J-pop idol girl band put on a special performance for him at Government House, in an event he hosted that observers say was part of his move to expand his support base ahead of next year’s election.

The band was in Bangkok to promote its year-end concert and the meeting was broadcast live on the government’s Facebook page.

In the broadcast, Mr Prayut was seen waving his light stick in time as members of the AKB48 group – Nanami Asai, Chiba Erii, Iwatate Saho, Mogi Shinobu, Nakanishi Chiyori and Sasaki Yukari – performed their famous single Koi Suru Fortune Cookies.

Mr Prayut later shook hands with the girls and took a wefie with them. Short for Akihabara48, AKB48 has a Bangkok-based sister idol group called BNK48.

Mr Prayut said he was excited that the J-pop band was coming to perform in Thailand, but added that he could not attend the concert. “I can’t squeeze through the young fans,” he said. 

In his chat with the young band, he also referred to the longstanding bilateral ties and his favourite Japanese dishes, and expressed his sympathy for the natural disasters that hit Japan recently.

However, academics see a political agenda behind this.

Assistant Professor Wilaiwan Jongwilaikasem, a lecturer with Thammasat University’s Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, said this was part of the premier’s move to expand his fan base to include young, urban teenagers ahead of next year’s election.

EXPANDING SUPPORT BASE
The Prime Minister is using these idols to gain votes from their fans.

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR WILAIWAN
JONGWILAIKASEM, a lecturer with Thammasat University’s Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, on Mr Prayut Chan-o-cha’s meeting with the J-pop stars.

“The Prime Minister is using these idols to gain votes from their fans,” she said.

The AKB48 and BNK48 fan base is comprised mostly of “young, urban males and females who use Facebook on a daily basis”, she added, pointing out that the Facebook Live clip had garnered over 2,300 reactions and 189,000 views.

A 24-year-old BNK48 fan, who asked not to be named, said: “This doesn’t make me want to support the PM, but I can’t speak for others.”

“Maybe younger fans are more likely to be persuaded,” she said.

THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2018, with the headline 'PM Prayut hosts J-pop band ‘to woo voters’'. Print Edition | Subscribe