Opinion: Shame or the Lack Thereof in Thai Politics

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha addresses the Parliament during a debate on Feb. 16, 2023.
PM Prayut Chan-o-cha addresses the Parliament during a debate on Feb. 16, 2023.

In a sane and democratic society, there is no way a former junta leader and his deputy could be running for the post of prime minister – not after they have committed treason by overthrowing an elected government.

In Thailand, former junta leader Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha is now trying to become PM again for the third consecutive term (if his first five years right after the 2014 coup with him being both junta leader and PM could be counted as his first term in the office as PM that is), competing with others, including his own former deputy junta leader, Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also currently the first deputy PM.

These are not just logic defying situation, but it pushed Thailand toward a new level of tolerance for shamelessness and political absurdity.

It should thus come as no surprise that Prayut would attack the opposition Pheu Thai Party for past corruption convictions during this week’s House Debate by saying he is neither corrupt nor had ever flee from corruption conviction – a reference to the two ousted and fugitive former premiers, Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra.


In his mind, or at least in an attempt to convince the public, staging a coup is no corruption, appointing the senators so they could later vote for Prayut to become PM again, as they did back in 2019, and could do it again in the months ahead after the general elections is also no corruption.

In reality, it is a mockery of the notion of corruption, however. Clearly the definition of what constitutes corruption in Thailand is too narrowly defined to the point where a person like Prayut could get away with many things and claim to be incorruptible despite his obvious flaws. Earlier this week, Prayut even told the House of Representatives that he can be scrutinized despite the fact that due to his junta leader status, he is not bound to declare his assets like (other) politicians. So, till today we do not know whether he is unusually rich or has ill-gotten wealth or not.

Nevertheless, it would be unfair to simply solely blame Prayut. It takes two to tango and the partners of this unconstitutional military intervention into Thai politics and the usurpation of people’s political rights are some of the Thai people themselves.

These Thais have such a high tolerance threshold to what is illegitimate and wrong to the point where almost anything is permissible in Thai politics.

That is why last Sunday, a prominent junta-appointed senator dared to publicly threaten the main opposition Pheu Thai Party by saying many senators will likely not vote for Pheu Thai PM candidate Paetongtarn Shinawatra to become PM even if the party wins most seats in the upcoming general election. Unelected senator Wanchai Sornsiri said Paetongtarn is “immature” and could cause political rifts if she becomes the next PM.

Or consider these questions, for example.


Is a military coup acceptable? No problem. Junta leader making himself PM? Okay, been there done that. Junta leader appoints senators so they could vote for him to become PM again after elections? Why not? Been there. Done that and could do it again soon. Then another possible round for Prayut to become PM yet again? These people no longer see what is very wrong with that. And that is what is wrong with Thai society today.

Things have become so messed up to the point where there is no point for some to talk about legitimacy, decency, shame and what’s right or wrong anymore. Some Thais have hardly learned anything over the past eight years since the 2014 coup led by Prayuth and Prawit. We should not count on them to rectify the situation anytime soon.

If you think Thailand has sunk low enough over the past eight years, things could get even worse in the months and years ahead and some would not even notice it.