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With no plans to restore civilian rule in Thailand after the military junta seized power last month, a campaign has been launched to restore happiness to the nation, Cheer up is the message and that is an order.
The Cheer Up Thailand project will involve free concerts, free food, alluring female dancers in suggestive camouflage miniskirts and even the chance to pet horses that are to be trucked into downtown Bangkok complete with makeshift stables and bales of hay. The events that will resemble a fair are designed to pave the way for reconciliation after a decade of political upheaval and coups.
However, some critics have pointed out that the feel good project is being carried out alongside an entirely different campaign that is being led by the junta, and that is an effort to stifle all opposition to the coup.
”The very first question you have to ask is, whose happiness are they talking about?” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai professor of Southeast Asian studies at Kyoto University. He has refused to respond to a junta summons ordering him to return home and report to the army.
”I’m sure this is not happiness for Thais who want a civilian government, whose rights were taken away by the coup,” he said. ”It’s surreal. And it’s ridiculous to believe this will create an environment conducive to reconciliation. That can’t happen when the military is harassing, hunting and detaining its enemies.”
Although the junta has censored partisan media on both sides, it has begun prosecuting opponents and summoned hundreds of politicians — mostly those who supported the former government or were perceived as critical.
The moves have forced some of the nation’s most prominent activists and scholars to flee or go into hiding. Deputy army spokesman Col. Weerachon Sukondhapatipak said the clampdown was necessary because ”if you let people talk at the moment, they will talk with emotion, they will be very critical.”
The aim of the project, dubbed ”Return Happiness to the People” by the military, is to get people ”to relax,” he said. ”We’re trying to create an atmosphere to gain trust and build confidence. That is the plan.” And the junta is serious about it. The weekly radio address of military ruler Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha is now titled, ”Bringing Back Happiness to the Nation.”