Thailand’s Prayuth Becomes a Philosopher King

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s growing determination to change the very way his 67 million laid-back subjects think and act has resulted in a government decision to produce a film of the junta leader’s teachings, known as his “twelve values.”

Prayuth is coming in for increasing ridicule for his weekly homilies on the state of the nation, which usually include hortatory messages asking the Thais to change their ways, raising concerns that he is seekng to cultivate a personality cult. The announcement of the film has raised the hackles of human rights groups, who say it’s going too far and if anything is megalomaniacal. Nonetheless, the Ministry of Education has already unveiled a poem based on the commandments. A pop song inspired by the Twelve Values is said to be under production. Prayuth has also written a patriotic ballad that has played nonstop on state-owned media.

“Prayuth’s delusions of grandeur seem to know no bounds,” said a Bangkok-based civil society activist. “What we’re seeing is a classic authoritarian big man action, a combination of the SLORC generals in Burma and Suharto’s so-called ‘guided democracy’ in Indonesia.”

Actually, the 12 commandments appear to be a direct throwback to the paternalistic Thai royalty regime that has ruled the country since at least the 13th century, a belief that most of the country’s residents are children who need the guidance of their betters lest they stumble into lassitude and debauchery, which of course great numbers of them have.

The 2001 electoral victory of billionaire businessman Thaksin Shinawatra and his subsequent actions to empower the rural masses of the Isaan, or northeast region of the country, both politically and economically, appear to have badly frightened the Bangkok elites, who drove him from power in a 2006 coup and who have spent the past eight years seeking to make sure he doesn’t get back anywhere near power. Thaksin remains in exile in Dubai after having fled abuse of power and conflict of interest charges.

Prayuth’s draconian crackdowns on all public discourse, media comment, critical newspaper reporting are a part of that. But his homilies betray a man completely out of touch with the vast number of his countrymen except for the royalty and business elites in Bangkok.

Prayuth outlined his 12 principles in a radio address in July as follows:

  • Loyalty to the nation, the religion, and the monarchy

  • Honesty, sacrifice, endurance, and noble ideology for the greater good

  • Gratitude for parents, guardians, and teachers

  • Diligence in acquiring knowledge, via school studies and other methods

  • Preserving Thai customs and tradition

  • Morality and good will for others

  • A correct understanding of democracy with the King as Head of State

  • Discipline, respect for law, and obedience to the older citizens

  • Constant consciousness to practice good deeds all the time, as taught by His Majesty the King

  • Practice of Self-Sufficient Economy in accordance with the teaching of His Majesty the King

  • Physical and mental strength. Refusal to surrender to religious sins.

  • Uphold the interest of the nation over oneself.

“The emphasis on a film may bring comparisons with the likes of past North Korea dictator Kim Jong Il who created a reality of heroic North Korea while his people starved on the street,” the activist said. “In any case, the Thai people in the red-shirt strongholds in the North and Northeast of the country are not stupid, and they won't likely fall for this kind of over the top propaganda that Prayuth is pushing in an effort to re-define what it means to be Thai."

"This is our first effort to comply with Gen. Prayuth's policy that called for a production of a film that promotes national identity," Panadda Diskul, the head of the Office of Prime Minister, told film-makers and actors at the Government House in getting the project underway. The government, he said, intends to produce a half-hour film extolling the 12 virtues, which is to be played in cinemas across the country

"[The film] will focus on Thai culture, peace and order, the national identity, and the adaptation of the Twelve Values," Panadda told the assembled moviemakers, asking for their ideas on how to produce it. "That way, new generations and people of all ages can watch without getting bored."

To ensure that all Thais will take the Twelve Values to heart, authorities said, they have instructed every public school and state agency to hang a banner listing Prayuth's words.

With reporting by Khaosod English, a unit of Matichon Publishing Group which also operates two other daily news publications: Matichon Daily and Prachachat Business.