All political leaders have lovers who support them come what may and haters who deride them no matter what they do. Here we shall focus on what the haters say. Why? Because it’s more fun that way.
Liem means edge and liem-jud literally means extreme edge. Figuratively, it’s a slang term for a mischievously cunning cheater. Hence, haters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was convicted of corruption, would ridicule the edges of his square-shaped face, saying that he is liem-jud.
Empty words and sweet nothings, these are the accusations against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Haters say he’s full of sweet emptiness, because he speaks well – but can’t get anything done. They also called him a murderer for the military crackdown in April and May of 2010.
Haters mock former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as e-ngo. E being a derogatory term for a woman and ngo meaning stupid. There are also the accusations she flirted with President Barack Obama on his visit to Thailand in November 2012. As such, haters also called her something else, which we shall not repeat here.
So we have had as our prime ministers, according to the haters, a corrupt cheat, an incompetent murderer and a stupid b-word, plus something else we shall not repeat. But that’s all in the past. What have we got in the present?
Haters accuse Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of being a clueless bully and a thief. Clueless in terms of political governance and economic management, among other things. A bully in regard to his character. A thief for taking the country by gunpoint. As is evident over the past three-odd years, the prime minister relishes in power, loves the spotlight and holds contempt for anyone who questions him. His standard response to any critical question is as follows:
Pounding or pushing the podium, or both. Tight-lipped, bulged-out eyes and angry face. Shooting out the ever-reliable rhetorical question, “you want to bring back street violence?” Then lobbing the threat of summoning that person for a “talk,” which is taken to mean detention camp, as so many politicians, journalists and activists have suffered. Just yesterday it was a social media personality. All the while, pointing and waving his arms about aggressively. That’s pretty much the end of the conversation, any conversation.
Nug-leng, which means thug or gangster, is a term also employed to refer to the prime minister. Lovers use it with a positive connotation, a compliment on his supposed manliness. Haters give it a negative connotation. Think of an alternate incarnation, in which the prime minister would call himself Grand Master P, doing drive-bys in a lowrider.
He wears gold teeth and shiny bling. Favorite drink? Gin and juice. Grand Master P lives the thug life and writes gangster-rap lyrics about returning happy vibes to the ‘hood. But he’ll bust a cap into anyone who dares talk back or even look at him the wrong way.
Back in May 2014, the prime minister was some four months away from retirement, with the life of a grandpa playing golf and spending time with family ahead of him. Instead, he paved a destiny for himself by launching a military coup d’etat. And here we are today, instead of a happy grandpa, Thailand gets a grumpy uncle.
The prime minister is a man who has complete faith in himself and his place in this world. With such a magnificent ego, he profoundly believes in his own righteousness, if not flawlessness. He can never be critiqued or questioned.
This past Monday, the prime minister was down in Pattani province on a meet-and-greet tour with the people. Parunyu Charoen, a 34-year-old fisherman, questioned him on amending fishing laws.
They stood face to face, the fisherman empty-handed, while the prime minister held a microphone. The fisherman spoke loudly and matter-of-factly about the issue. The prime minister suddenly shouted angrily into the microphone, “Calm down! Don’t raise your voice like that at me! You understand?! I’m listening to you! Speak to me respectfully!” He signaled to his entourage and then stormed off, still holding the microphone. He said “thank you” spitefully as he was marching out, then continued complaining into the microphone about how he shouldn’t be talked to in such a manner. A social media furor ensued.
Fortunately, there was no podium to pound on or push aside, and no threats of returning to street violence or sending someone detention camp. But the theme remains, which is: How dare you question me?
No doubt, the prime minister was rattled, shaken and stirred. An ego may seem magnificent on the outside, but as with most bullies, it’s rather fragile on the inside.
The prime minister can bully, threaten and detain politicians, journalists and activists. This is because all three professions are easy targets, often vilified by society: the first for being corrupt, the second for being fake and bias and the third for being a tool for interest groups. But when a fisherman, an everyday working man, stood up to him, it’s an entirely different ball game.
There’s a reason why all leaders, whether democratic or dictatorial, pander to the people. It’s not so easy to vilify the people with one broad stroke, as it is with politicians, journalists, activists, soldiers, policemen, businessmen, etc. The elites may make snide remarks about the people in private, but publicly everyone wants to be seen as championing the working man.
One working man stood up, the prime minister stormed off in impotent rage. What if a million working people stood up? He might run off to play golf and spend time with the family, never to return to politics. It would chart a new course for a nation.
However, it’s also a matter of who to lead on this new course and in which direction.