Videos that have gone viral show two women in Ratchaburi province this week being manhandled by police and security officials at a rally for General Prayut, have drawn stinging public criticism online and from the main opposition Pheu Thai Party. In the aftermath of the incident last Monday, General Prayut, while denying he was angry, upbraided the media posse telling them it was wrong that what happened with three protesters should distort the perception of a campaign event attended by tens of thousands of people in support of the prime minister.
It has been a bruising week for Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha on the unofficial campaign trail as he is understood to have already approved the dissolution of parliament next week giving the green light to a General Election in May. On Friday, he was greeted with a more than half-empty auditorium in Chiang Mai after local officials failed to turn up en masse and it was confirmed that his Minister of Justice, Somsak Thepsutin, sensing which way the wind is blowing, is to resign from the government to join the rampant Pheu Thai Party which looks like it is on course for a landslide election win in two months time. Earlier in the week, the Prime Minister also faced controversy when police and security officials were seen on photos and videos physically manhandling female protesters at a campaign rally in Ratchaburi, in western Thailand, sending the wrong campaign message.
Just a week after recovering from painful surgery on his hand following what doctors later confirmed as a lymph node infection and not an arthritic condition as initially reported, the last week on the unofficial campaign trail for incumbent prime minister Prayut Chan ocha has been a difficult one.
Polls suggest that his United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) party is emerging as the stronger pro-government force on one side of the political fence with his party gaining ground in credible opinion polls.
However, the deep unpopularity of the government he has led since 2019 is coming to the fore despite election promises and even a government programme promising nearly 16.5 million people social welfare payments and support.
United Thai Nation party strategists are desperately trying to present a warmer, smiling General Prayut as a democratic leader to the voting public
Campaign planners with the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) party since General Prayut put his political future in its hands at a huge event held at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre in Bangkok, over two months ago, have tried to present him as a smiling elder statesman and the leader of a democratic government since 2019 who stands for unity and peace having guided the kingdom though the pandemic emergency.
The campaign is attempting to shift the emphasis, in terms of public perception, from his role as the leader of the 2014 coup d’état and the leader of the junta government which ruled Thailand with special powers from 2014 to 2019, to a populist politician.
Chiang Mai audience flop with rows and rows of empty white seats which had to be removed as local officials in the province failed to turn out en masse
On Friday, just before General Prayut was to speak on a visit to Chiang Mai, a province he has courted assiduously over the last few months even telling the public that he loves coming to visit the region, officials, to their embarrassment at the last moment, discovered that a meeting hall furnished with 6,000 comfortable looking white covered seats were mostly empty as a small audience waited to greet the PM.
The meeting at the International Convention and Exhibition Center in the centre of Chiang Mai was expected to see a large turnout of local government officials including members of local Provincial Administrative Organisations and village headman but, it appears, many failed to turn up.
Before the meeting, General Prayut was greeted by a small band of well-wishers carrying banners and slogans welcoming him to Chiang Mai and praising his nearly nine years in office.
PR officials at the centre working with the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) campaign quickly ordered officials to begin removing the rows of empty seats.
Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsutin, on Friday, made his move after telling reporters last week that his political career is all about being in power
The disappointment came on the day that the PM’s Minister of Justice, Somsak Thepsutin, one of the few star performers in his cabinet, tendered his resignation from the government and told reporters that he was joining the rampant Pheu Thai Party which looks like it is on course for an overwhelming victory in May’s General Election at this point barring some major upset which is always possible in Thai politics.
In recent weeks, Mr Somsak had teased reporters about his intentions and that of his Sam Mitr faction within the languishing Palang Pracharat Party but did let them know that he was a politician who liked to be in government rather than in opposition.
On Friday, he lamented the impediments created by an unwieldy multi-party coalition government such as that which has ruled Thailand since July 2019 and said he was looking forward to working with a new government elected in a landslide.
This development came as General Prayut is understood to have already approved the decree dissolving parliament sometime early next week paving the way for the May poll scheduled by the Election Commission for May 7th.
Stinging criticism online after a viral video showed at least two women being tackled and restrained by police and security officials in Ratchaburi
Earlier in the week, the prime minister faced stinging criticism online when security officials including police and officials assigned to his campaign, tackled several women who attempted to heckle him while on a visit to Ratchaburi in the west of Thailand, another key target for the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) party which is chasing 50 seats in parliament and desperately needs to elect at least 25 MPs to be able to nominate him for his current job which he is eligible to occupy for another two years after a Constitutional Court ruling in September 2022.
The incident in Ratchaburi saw scenes, not unlike those seen in communist China on the rare occasions when protests break out spontaneously there, including female police officers and other security officials using an umbrella to shield their assault on at least two women, openly and vocally protesting and expressing their displeasure with the Prime Minister.
One woman, wearing a white, flowered themed shirt, had her mouth covered by the hands of two female officers as she was tackled to the ground while male security officials helped drag her to a van with a uniformed female police officer holding an umbrella to shield the operation from the cameras of either the public or media.
The woman, reportedly a middle-aged trader and former election candidate, later threatened to initiate legal proceedings for damages.
She told reporters that she did heckle the PM as he passed by and was mistaken for someone in the line next to her by the oncoming security team reacting to the outburst.
Afterwards, General Prayut suggested to the media that the women may have broken the law and appeared to deny that violence had been used
Another, younger woman, wearing a black T-shirt gave the prime minister a three-fingered salute as she heckled him from the crowd before being tackled by security officials.
After the confrontations, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha was adamant that everything was in order. He noted to the press that he was well protected and asked them if the individuals concerned had broken the law?
He also refuted claims that any violence was used.
‘Where is the violence? I don’t see it. How is it?’ he enquired of reporters.
As he went to his car and sat in, he turned to the reporting posse and ordered them not to ask about a situation like this again.
The prime minister pointed out that only three people had been involved in disturbances and this was from a crowd of tens of thousands suggesting that reporting on them did not give a fair indication of the day’s campaigning and rally.
Questioned by a reporter as to why he appeared to be angry, he retorted that he was not angry.
Government spokesperson refuted claims by Pheu Thai that General Prayut was prone to use violence, as a distortion. Said the PM was open to all views
After the event in Ratchaburi, a spokesperson for the government, Tipanan Sirichana, issued a statement addressing the chaotic scenes at the prime minister’s rally.
She refuted criticism from Mr Anusorn Iamsa-ard, a former prime minister’s office spokesman in the government of Yingluck Shinawatra and now Deputy Secretary of the Strategy and Political Direction Committee of the Pheu Thai Party, who described what was seen on video as violence which he suggested the prime minister was prone to deploy.
In her response, Ms Tipanan described the comments as an exaggerated statement and a distortion of the news from Ratchaburi.
She emphasised the prime minister was open and amenable to debate and contrary opinions but said that these should be expressed peacefully.
She indicated that security officials at the rally had to have due regard for the safety of all people attending the event and safeguard against disturbances.
She said she felt that the voters of Ratchaburi could well appreciate this.
‘Ratchaburi people are discerning. General Prayut has travelled to Ratchaburi many times and was always warmly welcomed by the people. If there are different opinions, he listens and understands all parties.’