Thailand's prime minister and coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha. Photo: Reuters.

Thailand’s prime minister and coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha. Photo: Reuters.

Junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha is not only an embarrassment to Thailand but is endangering the country.

The man behind Thailand’s latest coup of 22 May 2014 was General Prayuth Chan-ocha, a close aide to the Thai queen for many years.

He is an ultra-royalist and has served members of the royal family with flying colours, receiving numerous royal decorative titles.

Prayuth is unpredictable and dares to do things most army officers won’t. That might be one of the factors explaining why he was promoted to Chief of the Army in 2010.
Thailand’s latest coup is not the only one which Prayuth has been involved with. He was credited as having a key role in the 2006 coup that toppled then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Unfortunately, toppling elected governments is not the worst of Prayuth’s behaviour.

After he appointed himself as prime minister last year, Prayuth has behaved so outlandishly he has put Thailand to shame. His behaviour is both dangerous and detrimental to the country.

His list of tirades, tantrums, tellings-off and foot-in-mouth gaffes is long.

For example in September 2014, after two British tourists were murdered on the Thai island of Koh Tao, Prayuth made a damning statement and triggered an uproar by insinuating that foreign visitors – sexy ones, at least – were endangering themselves by dressing skimpily.

“I’m asking if they wear bikinis in Thailand, will they be safe? Only if they are not pretty,” he said.

He’s even admitted to being plagued by multiple personas. In November 2014 he told the press:

I’m well aware that I have a short temper.

Today I’ve calmed down a lot… I have to thank you for the warnings and suggestions. And I won’t change my personality, because I already have several personalities.

And of course, he’s not adverse to threats and physical violence.

Last November, while giving an impromptu news conference to mostly Thai reporters in the northeastern city of Khon Kaen, Prayuth while patting the head of a cameraman in front of him, then began nonchalantly massaging and twisting the man’s ear as he took questions.

In December, when Thai reporters asked Prayuth to face the camera during a public event they were covering, the junta leader took the peel off a banana he was eating and hurled it at their heads.

Of course nothing gets him worked up more than criticism of himself, his leadership and his government, the so-called National Council for Peace and Order.

In March he said: “The other day I was asked by a reporter what kind of works the government has done. I almost punched that person in the face. I have done so much. Can’t you see?”

That same month, while giving a speech, he came out with this little gem on the relatively merits (and definitions) of freedom:

In the past, our society experienced many problems because we were too democratic. Thailand remains “99 per cent” free, because if it wasn’t we’d jail (our opponents) and put them before the firing squad. Then it would all be over and I wouldn’t have to lie awake at night.

Last but not least, Prayuth was given a mandate from the palace to root out the Shinawatra clan from Thai politics.

An ongoing legal case means that Yingluck Shinawatra may soon suffer the same fate as her brother, currently living in exile.

The contentious rice subsidy scheme initiated while Yingluck was PM was meant to help boost Thai farmers incomes by buying their rice at above market prices.

The flagship policy helped sweep her into power but has also left Thailand with a mountain of debt and rice. The scheme has now seen Yingluck banned from politics for five years.

The royalist military junta is also suing Yingluck over the scheme, alleging that her government had lost tens of billions of baht. The current junta government is likely to demand compensation from Yingluck and her previous government.

If this judicial coup is successful, all Yingluck’s assets will be seized and she may face a jail term. My sources in Thailand have indicated that the top elites would want her to flee the country just like Thaksin.

However what should concern people most about Prayuth, more than his odd behaviour and desire to root out the Shinawatra clan, is the ‘China Card’ he is now playing and flaunting in the face of the West. He has steered Thailand firmly into the arms of the People’s Republic of China.

For example, several contracts have been awarded to China to build mega projects in Thailand, including a high speed rail linking the two countries. A delegation of high ranking Royal Arms forces also recently visited China.

This is a very dangerous game that Prayuth is playing, in the light of several and valuable assistance programs Thailand has received from countries in the West, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Chatwadee Rose Amornpat is based in London. She was charged with lese majeste by the Thai military junta in July 2014. For previous New Mandala coverage of her situation see this post.