For many upper-class Thais, the most prominent characteristic of Yingluck Shinawatra, the 28th prime minister of Thailand, was her “stupidity”. E-Ngor, or stupid girl, became her well-known nickname. When googling Yingluck, her unimpressive nickname can soon be seen at the top of the rankings. From the inability to speak English well to some of her policy miscalculations, Yingluck was crowned with the title e-ngor. Even though Yingluck has departed the scene, supposed stupidity has not been confined to the drawer just yet.
Recently, Thailand got its new prime minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, also the army chief and the leader of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)—the governing body of the coup makers. He staged the coup on 22 May 2014, toppling the Yingluck administration. Since then, the Thai junta has ordered a number of anti-coup critics to turn themselves in. Those refusing to do so had warrants issued for their arrest and, as in my case, their passport revoked. Martial law has been put in place, virtually silencing the opposition.
Without a sniff of challengers or critics, Prayuth’s confidence has mushroomed. He regularly appears on national television like a puffed up statesman, and deliberates on problems and ways to solve them. A military strongman now wants to prove to his people that he is mister know-it-all. This short article intends to showcase some of Prayuth’s wisdom in tackling the immediate problems facing Thailand. Presumably, Prayuth may want to convey the message that he is surely smarter than Thailand’s first and only female prime minister.
- In solving the declining price of rubber, Prayuth said, “The southerners have grown too many rubber trees, and as a result, the supply superseded the demand. They may have to cut down some rubber trees so that the products will not flood the markets. I also want them to stop growing rubber, but try other cash crops instead”.
- In responding to the frustration of the rubber farmers, Prayuth said, “We don’t want you to waste your time coming to us and then go home empty handed, because we don’t have any compensation for you.”
- In solving the overgrowing water hyacinths in the Chao Phraya River, Prayuth said, “If all Thais would help pick 10-20 water hyacinths from the river, they soon will go extinct.”
- In solving the devastating flood crisis, Prayuth said, “In the past, Thais built their houses on higher ground, sometime suspended by tall pillars to create an open-air space underneath the house. Some might have to buy boats. We have to come to terms that the flood is a natural cause.”
- Speaking to the parliament, Prayuth announced, “The NCPO is not god who can solve all the problems. Members of the National Legislative Council must help tackle those problems. Don’t dump them on me.”
- In promoting a new education policy, Prayuth said, “Teachers assign difficult homework to students. The other day, I had a look at homework of a por neung student (first-year elementary school). I must say that I didn’t even know how to do it. Homework is too difficult for students.”
- In solving the fluctuating price of rice, Prayuth said, “Every farmer grows rice. Why are you surprised if the price goes down? Perhaps, farmers should grow rice once a year. Don’t grow it too often. Or try to grow something else, or shift to other kinds of farm work. This will solve the price situation.”
- In tackling poverty, Prayuth said, “Blame yourself! Are you hardworking enough?”
- Dealing with the issue of class, Prayuth said, “Many have said that Thailand is a feudal state characterized by amaat and phrai. In reality, this is not true. King Chulalongkorn abolished slavery long time ago.”
- Replying to his critics, Prayuth said, “If we have a government, if we have an interim constitution, if we have a cabinet, we have democracy.”
- Advising Thais, Prayuth said, “About 53.8 percent of Thais are swamped under the heavy debts from financial institutions. You can solve this problem by not going shopping.”
- Talking about a threat to his position, Prayuth complained, “I am a victim of a black magic by the anti-coup elements.”
- Prayuth also complained, “Today, I have a sore throat and suffer a pain in the neck. Someone said there are some people putting curses on me. I had so much lustral water poured over my head I shivered all over. I’m going to catch a cold now.”
- As soon as Prayuth was selected as prime minister, he said, “The leader of the NCPO will soon pass on the responsibility to the new prime minister and he will not interfere in the affairs of the government.”
And last week, at the end of his lengthy speech, Prayuth waved goodbye by saying, “Love me just a little, but love me for long time…”
Pavin Chachavalpongpun is associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies