Angry PM's martyr act is wearing thin
Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha's latest outburst challenging people to oust him if they dare is not his first display of vulgarity, but it could be one that takes the heaviest political toll on him and his attempt to return for a second term.
Like a sharp ray of sunlight, the PM's expletive seems to have jolted people dazed by months of air pollution into awareness.
Suddenly, they are once again aware of what kind of leader PM Gen Prayut is. They see that when the going gets tough, PM Gen Prayut gets angry. And as his fury rises, he makes his signature move of attempting to float above the problem while spreading the blame on everyone else except his own regime.
Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist, Bangkok Post.
Even Gen Prayut's supporters seemed stunned by his passionate display of emotion. A dignified leader would not refer to people, even those who might not support him, with the vulgar pronoun mueng, (a Thai word for 'you'), in public. It's just too coarse, too thoughtless.
That is probably why PM Gen Prayut apologised afterwards for saying "unpleasant things''. He said he gets carried away sometimes. The gesture seemed too little too late though. His swear words were splashed on the headline of most newspapers the next day. A list of his many outbursts over the past few years was also circulated online.
Since he staged the coup in 2014, the PM has steadfastly tried to portray himself as a hero. He has written songs that proclaim his selfless sacrifice for the country. Sadly, four years have passed and he is coming across as a political bully to many people.
This image problem could not arrive at a more inopportune time. The PM and head of the military regime is set to decide whether he will accept an invitation from the Palang Pracharath Party, headed by four of his former government ministers, to be nominated as its top candidate for prime minister this week.
His public display of frustration and apparent inability to keep cool under pressure has inevitably clouded what he must have wanted to be a savvy nomination.
It's no exaggeration to say that following his relative inability to tackle the toxic haze problem and less than clear gesture about conflicts of interest regarding his status as head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), incumbent prime minister and possible prime ministerial candidate, it looks like Gen Prayut is a relic gathering dust more than a well-loved candidate attracting votes.
The whole business about the party's leaders who are his former staff extending a formal invitation for him to be their prime ministerial nominee appears overly theatrical.
Do these leaders want people to really believe that each of them is acting independently and never planned it beforehand? This is on the eve of an election. They shouldn't play people for fools.
Besides, the plot of Gen Prayut as a reluctant hero who sacrificed his own happiness to save the nation is not just old but irrelevant, even more so after his stubborn proclamation that he would hang on to the top job even though major political parties are urging him to step down.
If he wants to run the country, then it's time for him to say so clearly and openly. Stop hiding behind the facade that he is doing this as a favour to the nation. That pretext has worn thin.
As the toxic haze has started to clear, apparently thanks to natural factors, Thai people may have to thank the problem. Despite its serious health effects, the ultrafine dust has exposed the impotence of dictatorship and myth of bureaucratic polity, both arguably more harmful threats to the health of the nation.
Inabilities on the part of government and state agencies to take decisive action in the face of the crisis have told us that the reductionistic, top-down approach does not work against complex, multi-dimension problems that involve many disciplines like the toxic smog.
It also shows us that it doubly hurts to be choking under the air pollution while also suffering from inept leaders capable only at throwing their weight around. We know we are in this together. We also realise that this problem did not occur yesterday but is a result of years of policy shortfalls and failures. But hey, you are national leaders and government. If you can do nothing but spread the blame and spout profanities, why do we need to keep you in office?
Columnist for the Bangkok Post
Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.