Prayuth Chan-ocha, former Thai army chief and leader of the junta in office in Bangkok, has a humourless history with the media. Two years ago, after threatening to close down news outlets which wandered away from the official line, he had promised to “execute” journalists who do not “report the truth”. He has also patted the head of a journalist paternalistically and thrown banana peels at the press, which nevertheless did not oblige him by slipping up. Now, in an attempt at dark humour, he has ducked a press conference by referring difficult questions to 17 cutouts of himself, tastefully scattered about the venue.
Prayuth had seized power from the Shinawatra clan in a bloodless coup. The use of force was unnecessary because the people welcomed a change of guard which promised to end endemic corruption. But he has reneged on his promise to return the reins of power to a democratic government. Elections have been indefinitely deferred, martial law is a harsh taskmaster, and Prayuth has threatened worse — the lonelier he gets, he promised, the harsher he will get. It’s a tacit admission that it’s getting lonelier at the top.
In order to keep solitude at bay, he has gone forth and multiplied, in cardboard. Why has he reduced himself to two dimensions, when holograms are so easily conjured up? Seventeen holograms would have been so much more compelling, and would have speeded up the business of government. A few could have spent their time patting journalists, to keep the tradition alive, while the rest looked after the home portfolio, external affairs, and so on. And if there was a subversive in their midst, it could have called snap elections. But of course, Prayuth would have executed it. It’s easy with holograms. You cut the juice, and the UN just doesn’t care.