28 weeks later: Are Thai people really happy after the coup?
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28 weeks later: Are Thai people really happy after the coup?

EARLIER this year in Thailand, protest mobs took over the streets, violence mounted, and politics hit a deadlock. That was before the military, led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, seized power on May 22, giving a rather abstract promise to bring back happiness to Thai people. The junta then introduced the “happiness” campaign, which has since offered the public free movie tickets, free omelettes, free World Cup broadcasts, free concerts and, above all, kept the streets free from politics. So, almost six months after the coup, are Thais really happy?

Looking at the overwhelmingly positive opinion poll results the junta has enjoyed since seizing the power, it would seem that most Thais find their post-coup life happier. For example, an opinion poll by Suan Dusit Poll on July 6 showed that 88.5 percent of Thais were happier after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) took over. However, it’s worth noticing, as fellow Siam Voices blogger Saksith Saiyasombut discussed earlier, that there were flaws and limitations in these surveys, such as the fear factor that made a number of the respondents self-censor themselves when asked about their political views or the dubious credibility of the new Master Poll by Thai Researchers in Community Happiness Association (TRICHA).

Another poll result from Suan Dusit Poll that just came out on November 16 shows that around 82 percent of the 1,542 respondents are happy because of the peaceful atmosphere in the country, yet the same survey also reveals the respondents’ worries, which include: Thailand’s image and international relationship (65.82%); Corruption (63.23%); and The national reformation, legislation, election and constitutional drafting (59.14%).

But polls aside, concerns about the ruling junta were also noticeable in the form of protests outside the country, at the Asia-Europe Meeting in Milan and at the premiere of the Hunger Games: Mockingjay in London, where Thais showed the three-finger salute, a gesture that was banned in Thailand amid anti-coup protests earlier this year. On social media too, especially on Facebook, comments criticizing the military government still flood the politically-charged posts on liberal pages such as Voice TV, Manee Has a Chair and Sasdha.

It’s true that the peaceful and stable state of the country under the junta has brought happiness and relief to many people, but the absolute power enjoyed by the junta and the manner in which it brings about such happiness also unsettles many. For the junta there seems to be only one vision of happiness in Thailand, and the risks can be significant for those who don’t agree.

The unhappy people who voice their concerns or reject the ideology are seen as threats to the unity of Thailand, which is the core happiness by the junta’s definition. It doesn’t help at all when people are summoned to military camps to fine-tune their ideas, when peaceful demonstrations – like reading Orwell’s 1984 in public –  are also prohibited, or when activities like a Democracy Classroom at Thammasat University have to be called off. It all adds up to a culture where mere disagreement is a wrong and even punishable act.

While these efforts will certainly help the junta maintain its selling point – happiness and peace and order –  they also contribute to resentment among those who feel their rights and freedom are being trampled upon. Will the junta become the new power? When will the next election take place? Why can’t their ideas and opinions be spoken? These are a few questions that the unhappy still have not been given clear answers to. And as much as the junta says it’s always open to the public’s opinion, the recent incident that saw Thai PBS TV host Nattaya Wawweerakhup replaced tells a very different story.

Clearly, it’s a lot less troublesome for a Thai to take the easy way and be “happy-ized” All one needs to do is trust that the fate of Thailand is in safe hands with Prayuth and his “good” men. This also means you’re better off without many worries: absolute power, nepotism, corruption, election, education, freedom of expression and the future of Thailand. But not everyone is willing to tame themselves to be docile in order to be happy.

There are, and will always be, happy and unhappy people in Thailand, like everywhere else in this world. It’s only natural and there’s nothing wrong with that. The junta, despite its passion and perseverance, faces an impossible task to put a smile on these skeptical and unhappy faces because, to some of them, it’s the existence of the junta itself that troubles their ideology. But perhaps Prayuth and his fellows shouldn’t have bothered about them at all because eventually in the democratic society, the one we’re promised Thailand is shifting towards, everyone will be free to talk about their unhappiness. Dissent may bring discontent – but only for the narrow-minded. Maybe after we learn all the lessons needed, we can then cherish our differences and disagreements.

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The 28 Weeks Later series – Thailand 6 months after the coup:

Introduction: 28 weeks later in post-coup Thailand
Part 1: Economic stability comes at a cost under Thailand’s military junta
Part 2: Prayuth, censorship and the media in post-coup Thailand
Part 3: An education fit for a zombie?
Part 4: Are Thai people really happy after the coup?
Part 5: Thailand’s junta and the war on corruption
Part 6: PDRC myths and Thailand’s privileged ‘new generation’
Part 7: Thailand tourism down, but not out
Part 8: Education reform in Thailand under the junta
Part 9: 28 weeks later in post-coup Thailand: Some personal thoughts