Dictatorship is about control. They control you through propaganda and fear. Dictatorship is most effective when it makes you obey without questioning its lack of legitimacy.
Intentionally or not, dictator Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has recently succeeded in expanding the sphere of control to cover Thai officials’ bodies by ordering government officials to exercise during office hour every Wednesday afternoon.
On the surface this is a harmless, even beneficial and healthy, program and Prayuth managed to even win praise from no less than the World Health Organization (WHO) for the initiative.
For those forgetting that Prayuth is exercising yet another autocratic power by ordering officials to exercise, this is how a dictator can win praise.
Wednesday, Prayuth who acted as the aerobic in chief, or rather aerobic dictator, led officials at the Government House to stretch and sweat and engaged in a bit of football to finish things off.
Such directive is both ingenious and insidious because hardly anyone could oppose a dictator’s attempt to make government officials nationwide more fit. Very few, such as exiled academic cum anti-junta activist Pavin Chachavalpongpun, managed to whine that it’s wrong that officials are doing this during work hours and on tax payers’ money. All it all, forced exercise has been greeted with welcoming smiles if not amusement, however, and no one is raising the issue of the exercise of another dictatorial power.
More subtle is the fact that Prayuth has succeeded in taking greater control over these officials – this time through having them physically moving their buds. And officials obey without a second thought, almost as if they’re zombies.
The control over people’s physical bodies by the junta, known formally as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), began right after the 2014 coup with summons and detentions for what they euphemistically called “attitude adjustment” of hundreds of politicians, dissidents and a very few journalists, myself included.
There we lose control over our bodies as they incarcerate us inside military camps – and repeat the ordeal for those unwilling to cooperate with the illegitimate military regime after the first detention.
Then there’s the ban on the physical political gathering of five or more persons. Our eye sights also suffered a blow when Prayuth launched his weekly monologue on all free TV every Friday night. Prayuth seems demanding of our bodies. After all, dictatorship is about control.
Physical right, enjoyed in a more democratic times, suffered growing restriction over the past two years. ‘Success’ is judged by how willing, or unthinking, those given the order obey. To break the resistance a dictator must either break the will to resist, which is more than physical, but mental, or at least convince those under them that it’s harmless to follow the dictator’s order.
Prayuth’s order for officials to exercise is thus seemingly benign, although hidden underneath is an exercise of another kind – an exercise of illegitimate and autocratic power.
More difficult is the control over the hearts and minds of those who still regard Prayuth, two and half years on since the May 2014, as an illegitimate prime minister.
Coercion through fear and physical control are crude and often counter-productive. Ordering others to engage in some physical exercise, arguably for their own health benefits, blur the line and make dictator appears benign if not legitimate, however.
The last bastion to be conquered by any dictatorship is the mind. Your conscience is the last to be colonized by dictatorship. Without free thought you are just a docile member of society. Through thinking and questioning we still can questions the validity and meaning of this weekly dictator-led aerobic exercise session, however.