The indelible fool: Prayut era influential and unwanted

The Prayut Chan-ocha epoch will hang over Thailand foreseeable future. So great were its faults and so damaging its policies, that the mist of this era will blanket and cloud the next one for some time to come. As a witness to history’s ever-turning wheel, I find it fascinating yet terrifying how a singular narrative can so fervently engulf a nation, particularly when the pen is held by a man more acquainted with the sword. The Prayut era was more than a mere episode in Thailand’s history; it was a testament to how might, when ruthlessly exercised, can distort the essence of democratic discourse, perpetuating a myth that invariably threatens to unravel the tapestry of a nation’s already-fragile democratic fabric. His legacy casts a long, imposing shadow, having sown the seeds of a fresh generation who have come to know a truth far different from the democratic ideals they should have inherited.

It is no secret that Thailand’s democracy had always been on shaky grounds. It possessed the chameleon-like ability to present the semblance of a multi-colored, pluralistic entity while concealing the greys and blacks of its underlying dictatorial undertones. General Prayut Chan-ocha, who overthrew an elected government under the guise of ending civil strife and combating corruption, managed to chisel away at the remaining vestiges of democratic values during his tenure. The promise was an oasis; the reality, a mirage that only served to exacerbate the very issues he had sworn to extinguish.

Disconcertingly, the Chan-ocha reign served as an education, albeit a deeply flawed one, to a generation of Thais. It taught them, not of the strengths of democracy or the empowerment of voice, but of the authority wielded by those who hold power. It insinuated, by example, that might, not right, was the guiding principle upon which the foundation of a nation could be built.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A protester wears a shirt with a derogatory message about Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha during an anti-government rally in front of Democracy Monument in Bangkok on July 26, 2020. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

This is a dangerous lesson for a young generation to imbibe. It continues a troubling mindset for the young men and women in uniform that theirs is a mission to uphold traditional norms at any cost.

In the realm of freedom and dissent, the Prayut era was disturbingly reminiscent of a time when free thought was considered a dangerous anomaly. The long, oppressive shadows of his regime fell heavily on the land, smothering voices of dissent until they were no more than whispers in the wind. Under the regime, hundreds of men, women, and indeed, children, were sentenced to prison terms for exercising their right to speech and protest. This repression, unabashed and unapologetic, instilled fear and hesitation into the hearts of those who dared to stand against the tide.

Indeed, Prayut Chan-ocha showed an almost theatrical audacity in disregarding the norms of civility and decorum, underpinning his actions with an unassailable confidence that only those unafraid of accountability can wield. This audacity, in tandem with his obstinate suppression of dissent, created a vortex that spiraled the nation into a chasm of lost liberties and muted voices.

It is to the credit of the younger generation that their whispers crescendoed into demands and organized protest. That it resulted in the electoral victory of the Move Forward Party is a narrative triumph rarely seen in Thai political discourse.

A protester holds a sign relating to Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha during a Harry Potter-themed anti-government rally at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on August 3, 2020. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

But one must never forget, how can we, what it took to get us here.

We must remember what Prayut tried to create. For example the ‘core values education’ program, a hallmark of his rule, seemed to be a relic of the Cold War, serving as a grim reminder of the outdated, rigid ideologies that were better left behind in the annals of history. The rigidity and exclusionary principles of this line of thought only served to further ossify the divisiveness that plagued Thai society, proving yet again that change forced from above is a poor substitute for organic, grassroots evolution.

The Prayut Chan-ocha era, despite its rhetoric of unity and progress, has been a net negative for Thailand. It subverted the existing democratic processes, replacing them with an autocratic system that echoed a grim past and painted a foreboding future. The country finds itself at an inflection point, one that necessitates a deep introspection and a courageous stride towards true democratic reform.

The question now is whether Thailand can emerge from the rubble, dust itself off, and strive to reinstate the democratic values that were sidelined during Prayut’s tenure. We can only hope that the next chapter in Thailand’s narrative will be one of resilience and rebirth, and that the lessons learned from the Prayut era will serve as a harsh reminder of the destructive power of unchecked authority.

Thailand often seems to teeter between the grim and the comedic, something Prayut himself embodies. But his rule has been no laughing matter. The truth is that a man with an inferior intellect and a lacking temperament should have been an inconsequential footnote in our history book but the absurdity of modern Thailand means that this fool has become an indelible chapter.

The best thing we can say about the Prayut chapter is that it is finally over.

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