Leaders

Prayut Chan-o-cha

Prayut Chan-o-cha

Prayut Chan-o-cha
ประยุทธ์ จันทร์โอชา

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Vladimir Putin meeting Prayut Chan-o-cha (2016-05-19)-02 cropped1.jpg
 
29th Prime Minister of Thailand
Incumbent
Assumed office
22 May 2014
Acting: 22 May 2014 – 24 August 2014
Monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej
Vajiralongkorn
Deputy Prawit Wongsuwan
Pridiyathorn Devakula
Yongyuth Yuthavong
Thanasak Patimaprakorn
Wissanu Krea-ngam
Prajin Jantong
Narong Pipathanasai
Somkid Jatusripitak
Preceded by Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan (Acting)
Head of the National Council for Peace and Order
Incumbent
Assumed office
22 May 2014
Monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej
Vajiralongkorn
Deputy Prawit Wongsuwan
Thanasak Patimaprakorn
Narong Pipathanasai
Prajin Jantong
Adun Sangsingkew
Preceded by Position established
Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army
In office
1 October 2010 – 30 September 2014
Preceded by Anupong Paochinda
Succeeded by Udomdej Sitabutr
 thailand prime minister 
Personal details
Born (1954-03-21) 21 March 1954 (age 63)
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Political party Independent
Height 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)
Spouse(s) Naraporn Chan-o-cha
Children 2
Alma mater National Defence College
Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy
Signature
Military service
Allegiance  Thailand
Service/branch Royal Thai Army
Years of service 1972–2014
Rank RTA OF-9 (General).svg General
Commands Commander-in-Chief

Prayut Chan-o-cha (previously spelt Prayuth Chan-ocha; Thai: ประยุทธ์ จันทร์โอชา; rtgsPrayut Chan-ocha; IPA: [prà.jút tɕan.ʔoː.tɕʰaː]; ) is a retired Royal Thai Army officer who is the head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), a military junta, and concurrently serves as the Prime Minister of Thailand. The council, which he appointed himself along with other junta members, has the power to name the prime minister and control prime ministerial positions.

Prayut Chan-o-cha is a former Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army, the post he held from October 2010 to October 2014. After his appointment as army chief, Prayut was characterised as a strong royalist and an opponent of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Considered a hardliner within the military, he was one of the leading proponents of military crackdowns on the Red Shirt demonstrations of April 2009 and April–May 2010. He later sought to moderate his profile, talking to relatives of protesters who were killed in the bloody conflict, and co-operating with the government of Shinawatra  who won parliamentary election in July 2011.

During the political crisis that began in November 2013 and involved protests against the caretaker government of Yingluck, Prayut Chan-o-cha claimed that the army was neutral, and would not launch a coup. Yet in May 2014, Prayut staged a military coup against the government and then assumed control of the country as NCPO leader. He later issued an interim constitution granting himself sweeping powers and giving himself amnesty for staging the coup. In August 2014, a military-dominated national legislature, whose members were handpicked by Prayut, non-democratically appointed him Prime Minister.

After seizing power, Prayut launched crackdowns on dissent. He required all students in Thai schools to recite the “twelve values” as formulated by him. Prayut Chan-o-cha  has also banned public discussion about democracy and any criticism of his government, placing heavy restrictions on freedom of expression in Thailand.

Military education

Prayut studied at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School (AFAPS) Class 12, Command and General Staff College (CGSC) Class 63, the National Defence College of Thailand (NDC) 5020, and attended Infantry Officer Basic Course Class 51 and Infantry Officer Advanced Course, Class 38. He was graduated with a bachelor of science degree from Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy.

Like his direct predecessor, Anupong Paochinda, and former defence minister Prawit Wongsuwan, Prayut is a member of the army’s “eastern tigers” clique. Most of them, like Prayut, began their military careers in the 2nd Infantry Division, headquartered in eastern Thailand, particularly in the 21st Infantry Regiment (Queen’s Guards).

Military career

Prayut (left) meets US General Martin Dempsey (right) during his visit to Bangkok (2012)
Prayut (left) meets US General Martin Dempsey (right) during his visit to Bangkok (2012)

After graduating from the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, Prayut served in the 21st Infantry Regiment, which is granted Royal Guards status as the Queen’s Guards (Thai: ทหารเสือราชินี lit. Queen’s Musketeer). In 2002, he served as a deputy commanding general in the 2nd Infantry Division, becoming its commanding general one year later. In 2005, he became a deputy commanding general of the 1st Army, which includes the 2nd Infantry Division, and again became its commanding general within a year.

Prayut was the chief of staff of the Royal Thai Army from 2008 to 2009, and in 2009 he was appointed honorary adjutant to the king. In 2010, he succeeded Anupong Paochinda as commander in chief.

Non-military activities

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in action during a game of sepaktakraw with government officials as they takes part in an exercise at Government House in Bangkok on February 8, 2017 during Thai Prime Minister Prayut has instructed officials of all government agencies to exercise between 15.00 and 16.30 every Wednesday of the week at Government House in Bangkok, Thailan
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in action during a game of sepaktakraw with government officials as they takes part in an exercise at Government House in Bangkok on February 8, 2017 during Thai Prime Minister Prayut has instructed officials of all government agencies to exercise between 15.00 and 16.30 every Wednesday of the week at Government House in Bangkok, Thailan

After the 2006 Thai coup d’état, Prayut was appointed to the National Legislative Assembly. In this capacity, he joined the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. Prayut sits on the executive boards of a number of companies including a state electricity utility company, the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA). From 2007 to 2010 he was independent director at Thai Oil Public Co, Ltd. Since 7 October 2010 he has been a director of Thai Military Bank and chairman of the Army United Football Club.

In May 2013, Prayut sold nine plots of land in a Bangkok suburb to a company called 69 Property for 600 million baht. Reporters subsequently asked him about the land sale, and the prime minister’s position was that the media had no business questioning him on the matter. “The land has belonged to me since I was a kid, it belonged to my father. So what’s the problem?” Gen Prayut said. “Please stop criticising me already.”

In his mandatory 2014 asset disclosure to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the prime minister listed 128.6 million baht (US$3.9 million) in assets and 654,745 baht (US$20,000) in liabilities. His assets included a Mercedes Benz S600L, a BMW 740Li series sedan, three additional vehicles, two Philipe Patek watches, three Rolex watches, US$200,000 in jewellery, and several pistols. He also reported the transfer of 466.5 million baht (US$14.3 million) to other family members. As army chief, prior to his retirement at the end of September, the general received a 1.4 million baht (US$43,000) annual salary.

Since taking power in 2014, Prayut has appeared on a weekly television program called “Sustainable Development from a Royal Philosophy”.

2014 coup d’état and premiership

On 22 July 2014, Prayut issued an interim constitution granting himself amnesty for leading the coup and investing himself with complete control. On 31 July 2014, a national legislature was established according to the constitution. However, the legislators, mostly senior military and police officers, were handpicked by Prayut and included Prayut’s younger brother. The legislature, which mostly consisted of Prayut’s close associates, later unanimously voted Prayut the new prime minister. The formal appointment was made on 24 August 2014. As a result, Prayut held three positions at the same time: army chief, NCPO leader, and prime minister, before retiring from the army chief post in October 2014.

Although Prayut claimed the coup was needed to combat corruption, some members of his own cabinet and members of the appointed national legislature, including his brother Preecha Chan-o-cha and Minister to the Office of the Prime Minister M.L. Panadda Diskul, have themselves been beset by various corruption scandals. Prayut then prohibited any criticism of his government.In February 2015 he explained, “If people want to do opinion polls, they are free to do so. But if the polls oppose the NCPO, that is not allowed.”

In his role as head of the NCPO and the government, General Prayut was granted a salary of 125,590 baht (US$3,520) per month. Each of the other NCPO members was granted salaries of 119,920 baht (US$3,362) per month. These salaries are in addition to the benefits they are already entitled to receive by virtue of their posts in the armed forces.

His appearance in Milan at the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) on 16 October 2014 drew protests.

“Returning happiness to the people” speeches

Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister, Kingdom of Thailand & Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Minister of Tourism & Sports, Kingdom of Thailand
Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister, Kingdom of Thailand & Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Minister of Tourism & Sports, Kingdom of Thailand

On 30 May 2014, Prayut gave his first of a series of Friday night speeches on national television. Preempting normal broadcasting, including Thai soap operas, Prayut sometimes spoke for more than an hour, explaining governmental policies, warning the media to cease spreading dissenting views, and complaining that people weren’t minding him. “Sometimes I feel a bit slighted. I am not sure whether you have heard me or listened to the information that we have sent out”, he once said. In March 2015, Prayut announced that his Friday night addresses would be shortened to 20 or 30 minutes and would include his ministers speaking for themselves. “I’m tired of speaking for hours,” he said. “So from now on, I will reduce the duration of my ‘Returning Happiness to People’ speech ever [sic] Friday and will have my ministers who oversee each topic to speak in the programme.”

Article 44

On 31 March 2015, Prayut announced that he had taken the required step of asking the king’s permission to revoke martial law, which had been in place since the coup of May 2014, to be replaced with Article 44 of the interim constitution. Article 44 authorises the junta chairman to issue “any order to suppress” any act that “undermines public peace and order or national security, the monarchy, national economics, or the administration of state affairs, whether that act emerges inside or outside the Kingdom.” The Bangkok Post commented, “The section has no constraint, no oversight, no checks or balances, and no retribution. It says forthrightly that anything done by the NCPO chief is ‘legal, constitutional and conclusive'”. “Article 44 essentially means Prayut is the law…It needs to be added that the junta leader can also insist on staying on in absolute power indefinitely”. Prayut told reporters that he would not use Article 44 to violate the civil rights of anyone who is innocent. “If you didn’t do anything wrong, why are [you] worried?” he snapped in response to a question. According to Article 44, the prime minister is not required to inform the government before issuing an order, but must notify the interim parliament “without delay”. In August 2016, Article 44 was used to suspend Sukhambhand Paribatra, the governor of Bangkok, after irregularities made by the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG).

Civil liberties

In February 2015, Prayut declared he had the power to forcefully close media outlets. In March, when asked how the government would deal with journalists who did not adhere to the government’s laws, he took an even harsher position, “‘We’ll probably just execute them’, said Prayut, without a trace of a smile…’You don’t have to support the government, but you should report the truth’ the former army chief said, telling reporters to write in a way that bolsters national reconciliation in the kingdom”. His remarks were promptly condemned by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Economic policies

Prayut Chan-o-cha, WTTC Global Summit, 2017
Prayut Chan-o-cha, WTTC Global Summit, 2017

The prime minister has claimed that Thailand’s economic slowdown is not attributable to his government, but is due to the world economic situation. He stated his goal of moving Thailand from a middle income economy to a high income economy by aiding farmers and by encouraging Thai industry to produce quality products at low prices. In a speech before the Federation of Thai Industries, Prayut declared that providing more aid to farmers, increasing the sale of Thai rubber to China, and completing a potash mining project to cut farmers’ cost of fertiliser would help achieve this goal. As would encouraging manufacturers to cut packaging costs, particularly “beautiful packaging”.

Human trafficking

In his nationwide address of 27 March 2015, the prime minister focused on the Thai fishing industry and its reliance on forced labour. Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said that his government had elevated the fight against human trafficking to the top of the national agenda, the same as drug suppression, saying it has long tarnished the country’s image. He blamed worsening human trafficking, particularly in the fishing industry, on inaction or ignorance by the previous government, toppled in his 22 May coup. Prayut vowed to put fishing operators out of business if they are found to violate laws and abuse workers in ways that jeopardise Thai exports worth hundreds of billions of baht a year. Thailand is facing international bans of its fisheries products. These bans could be extended to other Thai exports like rice or rubber. “The people who do wrong in this area must repent. They have done this for a long time, for many years, and past administrations were never able to cope”, he said.

Dictator of Thailand, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, with Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
General Prayut Chan-o-cha, with Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

State Influence of Buddhism

Buddhism in Thailand came under significantly higher state control during Prayut Chan-o-cha‘s premiership. Following the coup, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), set up a National Reform Council with a religious committee led by former Thai senator Paiboon Nititawan and former monk Mano Laohavanich. The calls for reform were led by one of Prayut’s close allies, activist monk Phra Buddha Issara, known for leading the violent protests in Bangkok that led to the coup.

State influence over several aspects of Thai Buddhism increased under Prayut’s government. During this time, the ruling junta proposed requiring temples to open their finances to the public and requiring monks to carry smart cards to identify their legal and religious backgrounds. The junta’s new constitution also states that the Thai government is to directly support Theravada Buddhism specifically.

In 2016, Prayut stalled a decision by the Sangha Supreme Council by refusing to submit the nomination for Supreme Patriarch of Somdet Chuang, a Maha Nikaya monk who was next in line for the position. The appointment was stalled until a law passed that allowed the Thai government to bypass the Sangha Supreme Council and appoint the Supreme Patriarch directly. This led to the appointment of a monk from the Dhammayuttika Nikaya instead by King Rama X, who chose the name out of one of five given to him by Prayut Chan-o-cha.

In 2017, Prayut used article 44 to replace the head of the National Office of Buddhism with a Department of Special Investigation (DSI) official. The DSI official, Pongporn Pramsaneh, vowed to reform Thailand’s more than 40,000 temples by forcing them to open their finances to the public. However, in August 2017, Prayut Chan-o-cha removed him from the post after religious groups called on the government to fire him because of his reform plans, which were viewed as damaging the image of monks. Phra Buddha Issara said the junta gave in to pressure too easily given government promises to fight corruption.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, on August 8, 2017
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, on August 8, 2017

Prime ministerial viewpoints

  • The prime minister has asked the media not to report on human trafficking to suppress the country’s flaws without considering how the news will impact the country’s seafood industry and its reputation abroad. “Please don’t escalate this news,” Prayut Chan-o-cha told reporters in advance of a Channel 3 report about Thai nationals forced into slaving on Thai fishing boats in Indonesian waters. “The media should consider the impact the news will have on the country,” he said. “It may cause problems, and affect national security … If this news gets widely published, [it could raise] problems of human trafficking and IUU [Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing].” He warned that if any news reports cause Thailand’s seafood industry to lose customers, “the people who published the news will have to be held responsible.” The government will summon the Channel 3 journalist, Thapanee Ietsrichai, who has been reporting on the plight of Thai men labouring on the ships. “Let me tell you now, Thapanee will have to come see officials,” said Prayut.
  • In a speech marking Thailand’s National Media Day on 5 March 2015, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha urged journalists to go beyond merely “reporting the facts”. “This morning, someone said the media needs to be impartial. No. I don’t think they should say that. It isn’t good,…What they should say is, first, media should report news that is factual. Second, they should support the government’s efforts to move the country forward. And third, they should help reduce conflicts in society, and create understanding about the government’s policies that give clear results. Can you not do these three or four things together, dears?” He went on to say, “If this person says, this side good, that side not good, if media keeps presenting news like that, when will our country have peace?” The general then wished the media happiness and told the journalists to “be good reporters, be quality reporters, and be lovely reporters.”
  • Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha pledged to use Article 44 powers to address the nation’s failure to meet the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) aviation safety standards. The prime minister placed the blame on staffing issues, noting that the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) only has 13 aviation safety inspectors. The DCA employs 1,514.
  • In his weekly Friday night “Returning Happiness to the People” televised broadcast of 24 April 2015, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha conceded that Section 44 powers will not be enough to resolve illegal fishing issues that have prompted an EU warning and possible ban on Thai exports within the six-month period stipulated by the EU. He noted that it was a long-standing problem and that, “I cannot use Article 44 to solve every problem, I cannot use it to solve expensive lemons, to solve the economy or to solve the ICAO aviation safety concern problem. Section 44 is just for allowing military officers to do what they could not do in the past.” During the same program, the prime minister reported progress on tackling forest encroachment, saying the government had reclaimed more than 35 million rai (56,000 km2) of illegally occupied public forests.
    Sergey Lavrov & Prayut Chan-o-cha
    Sergey Lavrov & Prayut Chan-o-cha
  • At an anti-corruption event in Bangkok on 8 June 2015, Prayut vowed to eliminate corruption and repair Thailand’s tarnished international image.At one point, responding to media questions, he stated, “Don’t try to fool me and act like you can do or say anything ‘because we are a democracy….'” “Do you misunderstand something? Today, I am the one makes the rules. Previous governments couldn’t do that. But today, I made the rules [sic], and all of you have to follow them.”
  • In a speech launching the Discover Thainess 2015 festival, Prayut Chan-o-cha declared that disagreeing with his vision “…was incompatible with the very nature of ‘Thainess’. ‘Whoever causes chaos to Thailand or disrupts peace and order, they should not be recognised as Thais, because Thais do not destroy each other,…The charm of the Thai people is that they look lovely even when they do nothing, because they have smiles,…’”
  • “If seafood is expensive then don’t eat it. Leave it to the wealthy. I cannot ensure equality in this manner. If you want to eat expensive items then you must work hard and find a lot of money….We cannot pull everyone to the same level.”
  • Announcing the Public Assembly Act, which took effect on 13 August 2015, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said the law requires that protesters apply for permission from police for rallies at least 24 hours in advance. It bans all demonstrations within 150 m (500 ft) of Government House, parliament, royal palaces, and courthouses unless authorised by authorities. It also bars protesters from blocking entrances or creating a disturbance at government offices, airports, seaports, train and bus stations, hospitals, schools, and embassies. “This law will be strictly enforced to prevent the type of nuisance and violence that happened in the past,” Prayuth told reporters. “It’s not possible to have it all—happiness, equality, democracy—without giving us the tools.”
  • In November 2015, Prayut Chan-o-cha was quoted “If they want to engage in activism or whatever, it’s up to them. If they aren’t afraid of the laws, it’s up to them, and if someone finds a gun and shoot them, or throws grenades at them, well, they have to live with that. If they aren’t afraid, it’s up to them.”
  • On 25 December 2015 Prime Minister Prayut said that he would no longer put up with criticisms from “irresponsible newspaper columnists” and had instructed officials to invite them for “talks”. He said the media should not accuse him of depriving them of free expression as he had already made clear to them the limits of free expression and media responsibilities.
  • “Why don’t people respect the laws instead of asking for democracy and human rights all the time?…No one is allowed to oppose [the NCPO]. I dare you to try to oppose [the NCPO]…I don’t care what the international community would think about this. I will send officials to explain to foreign embassies. I am not afraid of them. I will tell them to understand that this is Thailand and we are enforcing Thai laws.”
  • On 10 February 2017, Prayut Chan-o-cha asked the public not to be obsessed with democracy, rights, and liberties. He said people should take into consideration other principles, especially existing laws, to find “proper logic”. He stated that the government cannot be swayed by the public’s feelings. Gen Prayut said that societal conflicts arise from social and economic disparity and an educational system that fails to instill a proper way of thinking.

Songwriting

Dictator of Thailand, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, opens the Discover Thainess Festival
Dictator of Thailand, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, opens the Discover Thainess Festival

As a New Year 2016 gift to the Thai people, General Prayut announced that he had written a new song to boost the country’s morale. “I wrote it as a personal New Year present for the people,” Gen. Prayuth said. “In the lyrics, it doesn’t only mean me, but it means the media, too, because everyone is united and I have to please them. I use my every breath to help this country move forward.” The song, Because You Are Thailand, sung by Sergeant-Major Pongsathorn Porjit, includes the lyrics, “The day we hope for is not far away” and “Because you are Thailand, you will not let anyone destroy you.”

In the aftermath of the 2014 coup, Prayut Chan-o-cha wrote a song called Return Happiness to Thailand, which is widely played on state radio and television stations.

Criticism

Personal life

Prayut’s nickname is “Tuu” (Thai: ตู่; rtgsTu). Prayut Chan-o-cha is married to Naraporn Chan-o-cha, a former associate professor at Chulalongkorn University’s Language Institute. She has served as president of the Army Wives’ Association since Prayut’s selection as army chief in 2010, and is involved with distance learning organisations, for whom she teaches English on a long-distance learning television channel. She claimed to have told her husband to cool down when speaking to the media. Moreover she told reporters that she was “looking after” her husband, taking responsibility for his clothes, makeup and haircut. According to her, Prayut was dressed “in the English style”, wore shoes by Church’s and suits tailored at “Broadway”.

They have twin daughters, Thanya (Thai: ธัญญา) and Nittha (Thai: นิฏฐา), twenty-somethings who enjoyed success as a “punk-lite rock duo” several years ago. His family has generally kept a low profile, particularly after a leader of a citizen group supporting the previous government called for his daughters’ kidnapping if Prayut were to stage a coup.

In September 2014, Time magazine reported that he had become “increasingly eccentric” and “highly superstitious” since taking power. Prayut Chan-o-cha has stated publicly that he consults a fortune teller, Warin Buawiratlert, regularly. He said there was no harm in seeking advice. When suffering from fever and aches early in his premiership, he blamed his ills on spells cast by his political enemies and combated the malady with holy water.

According to the Bangkok Post, Prayut has a collection of lucky rings which he varies daily in accordance with that day’s activities. He also wears an elephant hair bracelet to ward off bad luck. Prayut Chan-o-cha has revived the wearing of the traditionally inspired phraratchathan, first popularised by Prem Tinsulanond in the 1980s, and has instructed cabinet members to dress in the phraratchathan at meetings, rather than in Western suits.

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