The Real Influential Figure

PM Prayuth Chan-ocha orders a 'sleepy' audience ignoring his speech on March 16 at a rail symposium in Bangkok to stand up, put their arms over their heads and do some exercises

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer


The crackdown on the so-called “influential figures” or mafia by the military junta over the past two weeks has proven popular. Suan Dusit Poll earlier this week claimed 74 percent of respondents support the move although only 42 percent believe the crackdown will be successful. As many as 81.59 percent of respondents said they dare not report about mafia or influential figures for fear of being intimidated or harmed. Only 11.93 per cent are fully confident that the junta will manage to eradicate marfia and influential figures.

Influential figures and mafia are common in Thailand, especially in far-flung areas. Some have risen to become a little gentile over the generations or even became politicians.



While the government came up with a list of 16 types of influential figures who are involved with drugs, illegal firearms, illegal business, extortion, racketeering, running gambling dens, human trafficking, loansharking and more. Some local politicians, government officials, police (200 have been identified so far with almost 100 “transferred to inactive posts”) and military officers are cited by the poll as being influential figures. As many as 85 percent of respondents believe their existence is “normal” and pointed out that they have been around for a long time.

The poll made no mention of what may arguably be one of the biggest and most influential figures in Thailand today: junta leader-cum-Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha.

I have seen some Facebook users mention Prayuth by referring to him as the “big mafia” or the “real influential figure,” but these people are doing it at their own risk of being detained without charge by Prayuth’s men.

Is it fair to call Prayuth one of the kingdom’s biggest mafia when mafia is described by the Oxford Dictionary as “an organized international body of criminals … [with] a complex and ruthless behavioural code.”

I will leave readers to judge for themselves about whether the mafia comparison is fair (at their own risk), but at least I would argue that there are some interesting similarities between influential figures and the junta leader.


  1. BIG MAN: Like the so-called ‘influential figure’ where people know who’s the big man in town and avoid messing with him, we all know too that Prayuth is a very big man, at least metaphorically speaking, and many who are not happy about him simply keep quiet.

  2. FEAR: The mere uttering of the names of influential figures often strikes fear among those living under their influence and they publicly gossip about them at their own risk. This can also be said of Prayuth although his ‘absolute power’ didn’t stop him from being mocked by netizens and those who loathe him. Caveat emptor: expressing yourself in opposition to Prayuth and the junta comes with a risk of facingan ‘attitude adjustment’ program which often includes detention in a secret location, however. A Facebook user by the name of Sarawut Bamrungkittikhun was whisked away by 30 police and military officers and detained incommunicado for a week without charge and released on Wednesday. While being detained, Col. Piyapong Kliphan, a spokesman for the National Council for Peace and Order, the formal name of the junta, said on Sunday he has no knowledge about the arrest and detention of the man.

  3. JUSTICE: For influential figures or mafia, there’s street justice. For the junta, there’s the military court for civilians who are against them.

  4. EXTORTION: The junta doesn’t extort money illegally, they ‘legally’ use our tax money for their salaries, perks and other activities including flying people like Sarawut from Surat Thani province in the south to be detained in Bangkok.

  5. LEGALITY and LEGITIMACY: Mafia and influential figures clearly engage in illegal and illegitimate activities. The junta relies on making what they do ‘legal’ or granting themselves immunity for their illegal activities, chiefly the act of staging the 2014 coup. There’s always room to questions whether something ‘legal’ is necessarily legitimate or not.

In the final analysis if you have enough guns, influence, audacity, lack of conscience and decency, you might get away with being called an ‘influential figure’ as most will not dare calling out that the emperor has no clothes. At least for the meantime.

Pravit Rojanaphruk can be reached at [email protected] and @PravitR.


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