BANGKOK — Thailand’s military junta is preparing to “return happiness to the people” of Thailand tomorrow with a massive six-day street festival in Bangkok.
After seizing power from the elected government on 22 May, the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) vowed to “return happiness” to Thai society, which was rocked by six months of violent street protests prior to the military takeover.
So far, the military's effort to return happiness to the Thai people has included free concerts, free haircuts, free movie tickets, free 2014 FIFA World Cup telecasts, and a happiness ballad allegedly written by NCPO leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha himself.
Although the projects have been criticised by anti-coup activists andlampooned by a number of foreign media agencies, the NCPO has decided to push ahead with what it promises to be the biggest happiness fair ever.
Scheduled to take place from 22 – 27 July at Sanam Luang field, a stone's throw from the iconic Grand Palace, the event will feature religious ceremonies, orchestras by military bands, a light-and-sound show about the history of Thailand, and celebrities performing songs dedicated to His Majesty the King, said Pol.Maj.Gen. Nipon Charoenpol, deputy commander of the Bangkok Metropolitan Police.
The six-day festival will also host a cheap-goods market, an exhibition about the works of bureaucracy and state enterprises, performances from the contestants of “Thailand's Got Talent,” and free movie screening of the nationalist film, The Legend of King Naresuan.
A number of roads around Sanam Luang and the Grand Palace will be closed for the event, Pol.Maj.Gen. Nipon said. He advised those who wish to attend the fair to use free public transportation provided by the NCPO at Victory Monument, King Taksin Monument, and the Giant Swing.
The entire Ratchaprasong area in downtown Bangkok will also be shut down this weekend for what Thailand’s Tourism Authority (TAT) is calling the “Thailand Happiness Street Festival Extravaganza.”
According to the TAT’s press release, the festival is “part of a big-bang effort to show the world that Thailand is more than back to normal.”
Thailand’s tourism industry has suffered from the country's recent political turmoil, including a six-month protest campaign against the former government that started last November and the NCPO’s imposition of martial law in May.
“This event will be unmatched in the annals of Thai tourism,” said TAT Governor Mr. Thawatchai Arunyik. “This is going to be the mother of all bounce-back parties.”
The festival will feature parades, concerts, fashion shows, and “culinary delights” from 3pm-midnight on 25-26 July. There will also be a “Happiness Surprise” activity, in which festival-goers will take Instagram photos of their smiling faces, with prizes going to the best smiles, the press release says.
In tandem with its happiness campaign, Thailand’s military regime has also undertaken a widespread effort to silence all opposition voices and criticism. Immediately after seizing power, the junta summoned and detained hundreds of politicians and activists who were later released on the condition that they cease participating in political activities. The NCPO has also arrested scores of demonstrators for participating in anti-coup protests, which are banned under martial law.
Most recently, the NCPO issued a reminder last Friday of its restrictions on media coverage, which include a ban on any “criticism of operations of the National Council for Peace and Order, its officials, or any related individual.”
NCPO Chairman Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha says he led the 22 May coup d'etat to put an end to months of political deadlock and prevent an escalation of violence between Thailand's rival political factions.
According to the Gen. Prayuth's roadmap for the country, an interim government will be formed in September and tasked with revising the constitution and reforming Thailand's electoral system. The next election will be not be held in October 2015, and only if conditions are stable, he says.
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