By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer
When reading that a poll claims the military regime enjoys 99.3-per-cent popularity, this writer first thought it was a sick joke – apparently it wasn’t, but something more troubling.
“Poll finds 99% happy with govt” read the front-page headline of the Bangkok Post on Wednesday. If this is to be believed, the regime of junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha must surely be the most popular in modern Thai history.
Looking closer, one sees that the pollster is actually a state organ, the National Statistical Office, which works under the military regime of General Prayuth who claims absolute power under Article 44 of his own military provisional charter.
Put aside the possible conflict of interests by the pollster and its master for a second and consider these questions:
If the military regime is truly as hugely popular as its pollsters suggests, why the continued banning of political gatherings of five or more people? If they’re really that popular, why the detention of anti-coup students? Why the summoning of hundreds of dissidents, politicians, activists and journalists? Why the continued freezing of bank accounts of anti-coup leaders like Sombat Boonngamanong and Chaturon Chaisaeng? Why the compulsory screening nationwide of televised-talks of Prayuth’s weekly rambling on all major free TV networks?
Why the paranoia over whether I would visit the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand last week to listen and ask critical questions about academic freedom? (One of the invited speakers told me this after a military officer approached him and asked about whether I would attend). And why the snooping on many other dissidents at their homes and offices in various parts of the kingdom?
Do all these actions suggest a regime that is hugely popular and secure about itself?
The truth is, in no country that is deeply divided politically, something acknowledged by the junta themselves, can any political or military leader claim such a overwhelming popularity rating.
In keeping with the tradition of appointing its own rubber-stamp parliament to pass its own legislatures, handpicking charter drafters to pass its own constitution, passing its own ‘orders’ and expecting others to obey them while the junta themselves can stage a coup and grant themselves amnesty, the Prayuth regime has gone a step further in an attempt to make itself seem legitimate through the startling results of this poll.
Far from being convincing, we are reminded of the excess of autocratic leaders like those in North Korea.
On Facebook, some Thai netizens posted a reminder that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un similarly enjoys 99.97 per cent of voter support, narrowly trumping Prayuth whose result is not only slightly lower but based on a poll with only 2,700 respondents nationwide.
If the National Statistical Office thought the foreign media would be impressed, they couldn’t have been more wrong.
Most foreign media nearly took a comic approach to writing about the poll results. The Associated Press summed up the news in its first paragraph, saying: “It’s the kind of poll results you’d see in a North Korean election or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq…”
The poll results leads, inevitably, to one key question: why is there a need for the junta to validate and reassure itself that the coup which they staged on May 22, 2014 is truly popular?
Contrary to its supposed 99.3 per cent popularity, the need for such ludicrous poll results reveals a military regime deeply insecure and in dire need of validation – for deep down the junta know they and the way that they came to power are simply illegitimate.
As for the Thai junta leader being almost as popular as the North Korean dictator, I'll leave you to decide whether to laugh or not.