Regime is too sensitive to criticism for its own good

Regime is too sensitive to criticism for its own good

Big Brother appears to have lost patience and a sense of humour these days. The "brothers" are being overly sensitive and easily provoked, even by trivial incidents that most people would just wave away.

I am referring to the case of Thirawan Charoensuk, a member of the pro-Thaksin Chiang Mai 51 activist group, who posted an image of herself on her Facebook page holding a red bowl with a message that reads: "I love the people you hate and hate the people you love. I love Poo", referring to the nickname of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Ms Yingluck and her brother, fugitive former prime minister Thaksin, have distributed tens of thousands of red bowls to their supporters in Chiang Mai, their home province, to be used during the Songkran festival. Each bowl is printed with the following text: "Although the [political] situation is hot, let our brothers and sisters be blessed with coolness through this bowl. Happy Songkran."

Anyone with common sense will understand that Ms Thirawan's message that shows unwavering affection for Ms Yingluck and the message printed on the water bowls are innocuous and do not pose a threat to anyone -- although I should state that I am not a fan of the Chiang Mai 51 group which is infamous for the way it intimidated Thaksin's opponents in the northern city a few years ago.

But the military in Chiang Mai were not amused by Ms Thirawan's open show of support of the Shinawatra clan. She was summarily whisked away by military personnel from the 33rd military circle to a female remand home in Chiang Mai on security-related charges under Section 116 of the Criminal Code and NCPO Order No 37/2557. She faces trial in the military court.

I do not know whether the military officers in Chiang Mai acted on their own volition and created a mountain out of a molehill with the arrest of the red-shirt follower, or whether they were ordered to take action by the junta. It appears as if this is an exercise in "killing a chicken to scare away the monkeys". It is not going to work.

Why be afraid of harmless red water bowls?

The NCPO should be aware that this is just another marketing tactic of the Thaksin camp to remind their supporters -- which they do at every opportunity -- that they are still with them. It is propaganda designed to win the hearts and souls of the people.

Instead of whacking Ms Thirawan with a big stick, the NCPO should make use of the psychological warfare experts in the Internal Security Operations Command to win over the moderate Thaksin followers, if not the hard-core supporters.

The Red Plastic Bowl of Shame. Get a bowl, and also get arrested. A Chiang Mai resident faces an instigation charge for posting a photo of her 10-baht bowl on Facebook. (FB/Anon Nampa)

As a matter of fact, there are hundreds of redundant generals who could be put to work on that, rather than allowing them to while away their time on the golf course. Provided, of course, they are up to the task.

Using the big stick against defiant former Pheu Thai MPs such as putting them in re-education camps will never make them change their attitude towards the NCPO. It is better for the junta to ignore them and focus on improving the lives of the people in these MPS' constituencies and win their trust and confidence.

Being criticised is part of politics, whether one is a civilian or in the guise of a military officer. If you cannot tolerate criticism, it is better not to be in politics in the first place.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has, of late, become very impatient with criticism, especially from politicians of the Pheu Thai Party which is the only party being highly critical of the military regime.

In his interview with the Thai section of Voice of America during his visit to the United States last week to attend the Nuclear Security Summit, Gen Prayut accused the errant politicians and dissidents who fled overseas of hiring lobbyists in the US to spread misinformation that discredits the government.

One outlandish piece of misinformation, he said, was the government had killed 400 to 500 journalists, summarily jailed thousands of people and used plastic bags to cover the heads of many people.

I have never seen this item of misinformation in any credible foreign media. And I doubt any self-respecting foreign media would publish or broadcast this news from a lobbyist group without having investigated it first.

This disclosure from the prime minister clearly shows his deep contempt and mistrust of Pheu Thai politicians and the dissidents -- hence the intolerance of their criticism and the increased use of harsh measures against critics. In the end, this can only backfire on the regime.

Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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