« Rebranding Thailand: why is junta so obsessed with wordplay? » by Kornkritch Somjittranukit, 04/02/2018, Prachatai (English)
During the past four years, the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has added many terms to the dictionary of Thai politics. At the beginning of their regime, the NCPO coined the term “Returning Happiness”, which later became the name of a weekly TV programme that junta leader Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha uses as a channel to communicate with the Thai people.
In 2016, the NCPO launched the “Pracharat” campaign, directly translated as “people-state,” as part of its attempt to form a political coalition among the military, the private sector, the bureaucracy and civil society. The most recent term is “Thai-ism democracy” which was invented after Prayut showed an intention to participate in the upcoming election.
Prachatai talked to Petra Desatova, a PhD student from Leeds University, who pointed out that these terms are not merely a play on words, but rather a systematic attempt to strengthen its authoritarian regime. An advisee of Prof Duncan McCargo, Desatova conducted research which examines the phenomenon of nation branding in the context of post-coup Thailand. It focuses on the period from the 22 May 2014 coup until 1 December 2016, when King Vajiralongkorn officially ascended the Thai throne.
Why is nation branding so important for the junta?
The solution that nation branding offers is in the ‘correction’ of people’s attitudes and behaviours towards the nation, and its socio-economic and political systems instead of changing the country’s economic, social and political conditions. It is about creating expectations, ‘selling’ attractive visions, making people feel proud of their nation, and encouraging particular behaviours while setting boundaries to others. This is exactly what the NCPO needed following the 2014 coup. They needed to re-engage the Thai people with the old elite’s vision of a creatively modernising yet socially traditional Thailand consisting of people that will reject the Shinawatras once and for all, abandon their provincial identities and democratic and social aspirations in exchange for a semi-authoritarian rule modeled on the military regimes from the early 1960’s (Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat) to the late 1980’s (General Prem Tinsulanonda).
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