On 22 May 2014, Thailand’s military overthrew the democratically elected
caretaker government following months of political turmoil.
Six months after the coup,
Thailand’s economy continues to struggle, and repression remains
unbridled as the junta led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha insists to
impose martial law throughout the kingdom amid concerns from the international community.
This week, in one of the most unprecedented examples of political life
imitating pop-culture art, civilians in Thailand continues to adopt a
silent and peaceful three-finger salute of protest inspired by the Hunger Games franchise, despite the threat of being detained by the military or police. Thais in London meanwhile staged a#DistrictThai campaignat
the recent red carpet premier, earnestly asking the world to care a
little more about the ongoing repression in the land of smiles. Some
positive reactions from Hollywood are emerging as reported by Buzzfeedand many Thais are waiting to hear what Jennifer Lawrence might have to say.
But not much can be discussed in Thailand. Last week, a TV host of
ThaiPBS was removed from her show, following pressure by a group of
military officers after her program criticised the junta, with an
internal source citing threats being made on her and her family. Despite
widespread calls to end the criminalisation of criticisms by media, a
junta leader responded with a comment that ‘these regulations will be relaxed when officials see fit’.
Fresh doubts have also
emerged about the junta’s handling of the economy as Thailand cut its
outlook for the fourth time this year. Reuters reported
that the country’s economy grew much less than expected in the third
quarter, forcing the National Economic and Social Development Board
(NESDB) to cut the country’s growth forecast to 1.0% – Thailand’s
weakest since the 2011 floods. This worrying development fully
corroborates World Bank’s earlier predictions that Thailand will remain the slowest-growing economy in South-East Asia till 2016.
Calm at the surface, the months ahead look quite grim with a strong
undercurrent for Thailand, and it won't get any better unless there can
be an environment for open, peaceful and constructivedialogues between the Thais whose happiness at gunpoint cannot be further sustained for far too long.
Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence reacts to Thai protesters
adopting the Hunger Games salute: “It’s kind of a complicated set of
feelings that I went through,” he said. “There’s the first response of
seeing, ‘Oh, this kid’s using that [salute]. Isn’t that strange?’ And
then you go, ‘Oh, wow, the government just made it illegal. Oh, wow, now
kids are getting arrested for it.’”