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The government gets a ‘rap’ on the knuckles

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13 million views and still going strong. That’s 20% of the population of Thailand.

Any pop group would be astonished, amazed and pleasantly surprised by such popularity of their video clip in such a short time.

But in this case the clip is a subversive rap from ‘Rap Against Dictatorship’, a five minute rant against military rule in the Kingdom. The YouTube clip includes English subtitles.

“My country preaches morals, but has a crime rate higher than the Eiffel

My country’s Parliament is a soldiers’ playground

My country points a gun at your throat

Claims to have freedom but gives no right to choose

My country’s government is untouchable

The police use laws to threaten people

My country asks you to stay quiet or in jail.”

A military spokesperson, Col. Siriwat Deepor said on Friday said, “Investigators are trying to identify those in the clip, because the content is quite defamatory to the country and causing a lot of damage.”

He said that the group faces five years in jail and a 100,000 baht fine if convicted under the Computer Crime Act. Worryingly, he also threatened those sharing the clip would face the same punishment (several Thai media have already done so – we’re not quite so brave).

But it was only the start of this month when NCPO leader and current PM General Prayut Chan-o-cha fully embraced the social media world.

“Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who previously said his real happiness was staying away from social media, is now fully equipped with the famous platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram as well as his personal website…” – The Nation

Reactions at the time thought the Thai PM had proven a bit thin-skinned in the past when responding to criticism. The NCPO has responded to criticism over the past four and a half years with threats, ‘attitude adjustments’, the enforcement of the controversial Computer Crimes Act and charging perceived dissenters.

Plunging head first into the rabbit hole of social media, for any politician, will not be good for their ego. A few decades of social media show that it can be a toxic space for the faint-hearted.

You’ve either got to be a Donald Trump-type and use social media for all its good and bad, post any sort of rubbish and hope some of it sticks. Then go on the attack against your detractors. That takes time, ego and energy.

Or you just use it to spread the good word, block commentary and not engage your audience.

There’s not really much space in the middle with social media.

The Junta’s reaction, perhaps even over-reaction, to the rap song on YouTube, which attacks everything they don’t like about Thailand’s military government, has just added to the click’s fame.

The YouTube views have sky-rocketed since the government spokesperson spoke about it on Friday. Rounding up the musicians and charging them under the Computer Crimes Act will surely further add to their fame, the clip’s clicks and unwanted outcry from outside Thailand about a ‘heavy-handed unelected government’, etc, etc.

All this at a time when Prayut and his team are vying for voter love and support in their, yet unannounced, standing for election in next year’s poll. This test of their resolve has come at a bad time. If PM Prayut and his ministers are to stand for election they will need support from the widest constituency possible. That will include reaching out to their detractors as well and taking a few punches on the chin as part of the rough-and-tumble of democratic politics.

I pose two possibilities.

Option One

The Government rounds up and charges the team behind the offending rap. After questioning there would likely be some charges laid and a period of months waiting for their day in Court, likely to be a date post February 24, 2019, effectively silencing them in the time leading up to the election.

Option Two

The Prime Minister invites the group to government house, or sends one the country’s deputy PMs to Thammasat University, for a closed discussion. In this way, no one is losing face. Following any meeting there would be a ‘very Thai’ photo opportunity with a polite wai from the performers and a statement from both sides saying that they “appreciated the chance to meet and share their differences.” Everyone’s a winner.

The public relations outcomes for the Government would be very different.

The government’s newly appointed official spokesman, Puttipong Punnakanta, stated on Friday that the government feels sorry that Thailand’s young generation wants to harm the country.

“They should’ve used their musical talent in a way that is more beneficial to their motherland and become good role models to others,” he said. “I don’t want people to think that doing this is cool or fun. I’m not sure if they did it on their own will or if there’s someone else behind this.”

Youth sharing their voices and ranting against sitting governments and institutions is nothing new. In this case it’s just been words shared, not blood or civil disturbance.

Of course in 2018 their opportunities for doing so are vastly increased, compared to the old media paradigms. They must have either been acutely aware of the timing of their release or perhaps just uploaded the file as a dare.

Either way, the government’s reponse to the matter may play an important role in the next few month’s electioneering.

 

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