Prayuth is Thailand’s Very Own ‘Bridge to Nowhere’

Retention

You’re a coup leader, a military dictator. What can you do to improve your image?

Try rebranding, repositioning yourself as a bridge for society to overcome all its troubles, perhaps. This is exactly what dictator Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha did last week when he supposedly wrote the lyrics of a new ballad entitled “Bridge” and forced it into the public’s ears.

The song’s title actually refers to the junta leader himself as looming metaphor. “I am ready to be the bridge for you to cross,” part of the melodramatic song goes. If that’s not explicit enough, another part of the same song reminds Thai people that he is “fighting for you.” Never mind that Prayuth and his armed men in uniform unconstitutionally robbed Thai citizens of their political rights when they staged the May 2014 coup.

Such rebranding or self-characterization goes a long way toward enabling those who were already biased toward or still unsure about Prayuth to see the dictator as a selfless volunteer who reluctantly staged a coup to save the nation from uneducated and misled Thais who kept voting for anyone with Shinawatra in their name.

It’s “reassuring” to see Prayuth perceive himself as a bridge. Never mind if hundreds have been detained without charge on his order, myself included, for merely thinking loudly and differently from the dictator-cum-prime-minister.

A true bridge facilitates dialogue and doesn’t censor those who disagree. When not even five people can gather to be heard in public without breaking Prayuth’s ban assembly ban which threatens arrest and detention, talk of bridges is just, forgive the alliteration, bullshit.

One can imagine being whatever one likes, and Prayuth has the right to perceive himself – loudly – as a bridge. Those who loathe the dictator perceive him differently, however.

Pravit RojanaphrukOne of the most popular characterizations of the dictator by anti-junta Thai netizens is to compare Prayuth and his men to security guards who used weapons they had to seize control of a gated community or a condominium.

In this alternative characterization or branding, Prayuth is a security guard who is completely unqualified to run the kingdom’s affairs due to his low level of knowledge and lack of legitimacy.

Characterizing Prayuth as a security guard is important in that these people reminded themselves they are the owners (taxpayers) who paid for Prayuth’s salary and perks as head of security (army chief) before he seized control of the building (nation).

One can detect a discourse on rights and legitimacy in this characterization of Prayuth as an armed guard who turned out to be a loose cannon.

On the other hand, the self-characterization of Prayuth as a bridge dwells on the discourse of selflessness and devotion to the public. Nothing about the illegitimate coup or the horrors of political repression are mentioned in the song.

Instead, the junta leader refers to a common dream, as if there’s no differing opinions in Thai society, not to mention rifts, in his latest song when he assures: “What we dreamed of will come true.”

In yet another part of the ballad, Prayuth even promises: “My two hands won’t let you go.”

Very reassuring for junta supporters, I’m sure. But troubling if you are wondering how much longer he plans to illegitimately hold power.

In the end, no matter who you are, or how powerful you may be, you cannot prevent people from branding you differently. History will duly note both the “selfless bridge” and the “armed security guard running amok” as among the two of the various characterization of Prayuth.