Image: Prayut Chan-o-cha / Facebook

BANGKOK — When he’s not pulling the levers of power, junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha is a simple human who eats modest meals.

At least that’s the message the retired general – whose declared assets stand at about 128 million baht – telegraphed in a photo of the retired general eating what looks like fried rice and soup posted online Monday.  

“Delicious stuff doesn’t always have to be expensive. #SmartChoice” the junta leader wrote on his official Facebook page.

Instead of winning plaudits, the photo seemed to backfire as most comments mocked the image and dismissed it as an obvious setup. As of Monday afternoon, the post had been shared at least 6,600 times and received more than 7,800 comments.

“I’m about to take your photo. Please act like you’re eating and don’t look up at the camera,” user Sahaphap Nuansri wrote in a faux script. “Ready? Alright, 1, 2, 3, snap! Done! Mae Baan, take these plates away.”

“Doesn’t everyone eat meals like this?” Aekkasit Onklam asked.

“Other candidates keep showing off their visions. Uncle Tuu shows off his meal,” Wachinan Somjai said.

Not everyone reacted negatively. One user argued that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra also published photos of himself eating meals with rural villagers during his time in office.

“Let me ask you, is this photo also a PR move? If you say no, that means you’re biased,” Ying Praphanwong wrote with a photo of Thaksin.

Then-PM Thaksin Shinawatra shares a meal with locals in Roi Et province in January 2006.

It didn’t take long for the controversial post to catch the internet hivemind’s attention.

Harry Potter exclaims that the magical food at Hogwarts must be expensive, only to be corrected by Ron that’s not necessarily true. A classmate warns him that “the headmaster’s seat” is very expensive, though.

“Good submarines don’t always have to be expensive,” reads the caption in a reference to the junta’s 36-billion-baht submarine deal with China.

Supermarket chain Tops advises customers to follow their #SmartChoice and choose “Thanathorn Oranges” from the north with the distinctive color adopted by the Future Forward Party.

“The audience knows you’re not smart,” reads a quote from a “mentor” on reality television show ‘The Face Thailand.’

This user challenged Prayuth to pose for a roadside meal like Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit next.

The photo is the latest attempt to rehabilitate Prayuth’s image and rebrand the prickly military man as a relatable man of the people before the March 24 election. The junta leader is running for another term in office atop the Phalang Pracharat Party’s ticket.

When you’re halfway into election season and he gives you this look.

Prayuth attempted similar meal moderation when his aides posted a video of him eating from a lunchbox in a van last month.

Late last week, Facebook pages allied to the junta released a striking set of photos of Prayuth mugging for the camera romantically. In one he rests his chin atop his clasped hands and gazes into the camera.

Phalang Pracharat spokesman Kobsak Pootrakool also told the media yesterday that his team will soon release exclusive photos of Prayuth in the theme of “Uncle Tuu the Otaku,” possibly taken when the regime chairman met members of the J-pop group AKB48 last year.