Regime's 'attitude adjustment' sessions likely to fail

Regime's 'attitude adjustment' sessions likely to fail

'Attitude adjustment": In the Urban Dictionary, it is a finishing move in which a wrestler hoists an opponent onto his shoulders and drops him sideways. According to urbandictionary.com, this move is used by WWE superstar John Cena and is considered by some fans as one of the weakest and least impactful moves in professional wrestling. 

"Attitude adjustment" became a buzzword here when the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) came to power in the coup of May 22. It seems to carry a similar meaning to the one used in professional wrestling, although the NCPO has never defined its meaning.

In the Thai context, "attitude adjustment" is a process used to silence or neutralise opponents of the NCPO or the government, starting with face-to-face talks between selected military personnel, who specialise in persuasive dialogue, and individuals the NCPO deems their "opponents".

The "discussion" between the two parties may last just a few hours if the "opponents" are cooperative. In other words, promise to be "good boys". If not, the "opponents" may have to spend a night, or more, being involved in more discussions until they change their attitude toward the junta and the coup.

If the talking does not work, especially with some hard-core opponents, after a series of discussions, the junta will apply the "big stick" — which may include a thorough check of their assets to determine whether they were acquired legally or not, a check of their tax records to see if they have been correctly paid, a freeze on their financial transactions or an order to prohibit them from going overseas. The big stick is rarely used as most "opponents" become cooperative after the first discussion.

Last week saw several Pheu Thai Party key members "invited" — or summoned — for attitude adjustment discussions. These included former deputy prime minister and foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, former party leader and education minister Chaturon Chaisaeng, former energy minister Pichai Naripthaphan, former deputy commerce minister Natthawut Saikua and former Khon Kaen MP Cherdchai Tantisirin.

Their alleged "offences"? They criticised the impeachment of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, or they took up the critical remarks made by US Assistant Secretary of State for Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel. Mr Pichai and Mr Chaturon have previously criticised the government and the NCPO on their Facebook pages or in interviews with the media. But they had not been invited for attitude adjustment.

The unusually large number of Pheu Thai people being "invited" or summoned to see the military for attitude adjustment coincides with Mr Russel's criticism of the junta. The same week also saw Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in his most irritable mood ever. In my personal analysis, they were all connected. Without the uproar generated by Mr Russel's comments, I believe many of them would have escaped the attitude adjustment encounters with the military.

But does attitude adjustment work in just one or two encounters? I don't think so. And I wonder whether the NCPO thinks so. The best that this process will achieve is to silence these critics for a while, which, perhaps, may be what the junta actually wants.

People like Mr Chaturon, Mr Surapong, Mr Natthawut and Mr Pichai, among others, will never change their attitudes toward the coup, no matter the claimed merits or the good wishes pronounced by the coup-makers. Similarly, the anti-Thaksin camp is unlikely to change its attitude toward the fugitive former prime minister and the Pheu Thai Party.

This is the sad political reality, the deep mutual distrust between the two opposing camps, which makes reconciliation an uphill task. But as far as Prime Minister Prayut is concerned, his real opponent — or weakness — appears to be his emotional outbursts, which are often demonstrated in front of the media. A lesson in anger control will certainly win him more support.


Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.

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