It doesn’t seem so long ago that the army, under one General Prayut Chan-ocha, took power in a bloodless coup promising to stabilise a fractious country torn apart by political instability.
At the time, many people even applauded the move, citing the need for stability.
Unlike the previous coup in 2006, the coup-leaders did not appoint a technocratic government filled with civilians but, rather, appointed themselves, friends, and family members to positions of power.
The promise was, and to some extent still is, that the government needed to be staffed by “good people” who had the country’s best interests at heart.
It is not a phrase that is new to General Prayut. During the 2019 elections, Prayut urged people to vote for “good people” to ensure that society stays harmonious.
He has used the phrase more than once during press conferences to defend his government, saying that they are “good people” who exercise “good morals.”
It is also a rallying cry that his supporters have taken to wholeheartedly.
During the recent “Walk to Support Uncle” rally in support of the government, many people who took part told Thai Enquirer that this government was full of “good people” working hard for the country.
The problem with this line of rhetoric is twofold.
First, the rhetoric creates an immediate polarity where those that don’t subscribe to the same political ideology as Prayut (an authoritarian, anti-democratic one at that) are automatically placed in the camp of ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ people.
This was a central theme of the recent rally, which saw pro-government supporters evoke images of 1976 with the hitting, stomping, and destruction of effigies meant to represent the other side. The idea that one side is ‘good’ and the other is ‘bad’ also creates a black and white view of politics, which is anything but.
This brings me to my second point, which is that many of the people serving in this government actually began their careers with the current opposition parties.
Take for instance Thammanat Prompow who began his career with Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party. He even ran in the 2014 election under the Pheu Thai banner before that election was nullified by General Prayut’s military coup.
He is one of the “good people” serving under Prayut’s Palang Pracharath banner. Yet by any objective and reasonable measures of a ‘good’ person, Thammanat could be argued to fall short.
This is, after all, a man who was convicted of drug trafficking offences in Australia and sentenced to jail.
Yet the government defends him as a “good person.” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, another serial user of the “good people” phraseology, asked the public to forget about Thammanat’s past because it was in the past.
Others within the government echoed this sentiment. Some went so far as to say ‘drug dealers can love their country too.’
Among those to defend Thammanat was Palang Pracharath MP Pareena Kraikupt.
This is the same MP currently under investigation for corruption related to her alleged building of a chicken farm on national park land. While the investigation will not be completed until April, several national park officials have already testified against Pareena.
Need I remind you that the poor of this country have been arrested and jailed for lesser offences when it comes to national park land? This is the same country that jailed an elderly couple for five years for picking mushrooms in a national park.
But the chances of Pareena going to jail are very slim because she is a “good person,” one that as of yesterday was put on parliament’s anti-corruption committee.
So, I suppose one could say that this government is full of “good people” – provided that ‘good’ is arbitrary, subjective, and open to interpretation.