Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Is General Prayuth Chan-ocha Scared Of Going On Trial?

Thailand’s army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha is not known to be the smoothest talker and the most gentle person to handle the media. In fact, there were several incidents when he lost his temper while talking to the press too often – whether it was self-inflicted or sparked by a dumb question. Normally we’d would make fun of this in the Tongue-Thai’ed section of this blog and be done with it. However, the most recent flare-up by Prayuth is the epitome of the army chief’s problematic relationship with the media and also his own perception of his job.
Some background: In the ongoing insurgency in the deep southern border regions, four soldiers were killed in an ambush while on patrol in late July, all very visibly in front of surveillance cameras. The blunt nature of this incident has put the violent conflict back on the public agenda and, as it is usually the case, the government will introduce some quick, short-term initiatives to sooth the increased public awareness. It is the same case with the current Yingluck administration, which has, for example, set up a special command center for the South (and giving it an utterly stupid name).
It was in light of these events where army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha had to face press yet again over the separatist insurgency in the deep Southern provinces – and yet again, he just can’t stand being asked questions, no matter how critical. Just look at this video as he increasingly angry…
It hardly needs translation to see how his mood has shifted downwards, but there are some lines that are both very memorable and very questionable as well. Here are some with the time codes for the video above for you to follow along…
0:29 : There’re some things you just don’t get, no matter if I explain you to death with it, you’d still don’t get it!
0:37 : You think you can do better? Then you can take over as army chief…! That’s it! Period!
1:29 : Man…! Then you’re going to write again that I’ve blown a fuse – I’m angry as I’m normally am, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do this job – so I gotta be able to get angry. I’m not a monk after all!
1:48 : All the brilliant journalists should gather around here and ask me – and if I answer them and they can’t follow-up with something, they should shut it!
3:18 : I’m already as calm as I can be and I’m exhausted – I was a little angry, but now I’m  good again!
3:28 : Anything else?! Ah?! Ok, I’m not mad at you! If I’d be angry I would have killed you all already!
Erm, yes…! I guess there were definitely no more questions.
Prayuth has also weighed in again on the controversial issue of the fraudulent bomb-sniffing device GT200, which have come up again in July after it was discovered that the bogus dowsing-rod is still in usage. The army chief came out to defend the ongoing usage of the GT200 while being totally oblivious to scientific evidence that it just doesn’t work. The armed forces are currently in search for new bomb detectors to replace, but haven’t finalized a deal yet. And Prayuth knows already who to blame for it.
“The media should help us find other alternative equipment to protect soldiers and police officers from bomb attacks. If you can’t find it, then don’t ask because it’s annoying,” the national army chief said.
The third incident was from last week when the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) – another highly politicized institution that has a long record of serving to whoever is in power – has indicated that they were going to summon military snipers for questioning for their role in the violent 2010 crackdown on the anti-government red shirt protesters, in which almost 90 people on both side have lost their lives.
Prayuth of course didn’t like the DSI’s insinuation that the army has actually killed people when the protests deteriorated quickly and he and the army’s spokesperson Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd (who ever since 2010 has been regarded as seemingly ‘impeccable’) have been touting the same line that no soldier has killed any protesters at all. They did that shortly afterthe crackdown and they did that again this time – so much so that apparently Prayuth made the bendy DSI chief apologize to him.
And just to make sure he also rammed his message that there were no snipers involved to the press as well – only for Prachtai to later that week exclusively reveal documents that there has been authorizations to use snipers during the crackdown, including the baffling revelation that of the 3,000 snipers rounds only 880 were returned.
But here is his now obsolete message anyways:
“What is a sniper? What person would use snipers? And do you know who the snipers are? Those who appeared to be soldiers [in the photographs or video clips] were just equipped with an enhanced scope. And the enhanced scope and the gun are not a sniper type. If you say what you don’t know, you’d better shut up. These things, which are used for marksmanship and are available for sale at informal markets for the purpose of shooting birds, are not sniper stuff. Don’t just ramble on.
And rambling on seems to be almost the only thing he does ever since he took the post of army chief in late 2010, already showing his outspokenness then. He reacts irritated nearly all time when dealing with the press and mostly sees no other way to lash out, throw a tantrum and divert attention from the matter itself, by either accusing the press of not supporting the troops – as most don’t have a problem with the soldiers, but rather with the one(s) who lead them – or simply taunting somebody else to take over his post.
The point that he could use media training or just let Col. Sansern speak for him instead has been raised many times already, but it would change little about the lacking professionalism of the Thai armed forces and in its outwards portrayal, since General Prayuth is one of these military figures that think that anger and bruteness are the only ways to show power, authority and self-assureness, while these erratical flare-ups though create the opposite.
Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and on Facebook here.