Skip to main content

From coup-maker to hit-maker: Thai general pens 'happiness' ballad

By Tim Hume, CNN
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 0437 GMT (1237 HKT)
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has written the lyrics to a patriotic song vowing to
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has written the lyrics to a patriotic song vowing to "restore happiness" to Thais.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has penned the lyrics to a patriotic song
  • Vowing to return happiness to Thais, it has racked up hundreds of thousands of YouTube views
  • The junta has engaged in an intense PR campaign on the theme of happiness to win over Thais
  • But critics say it cannot succeed when the regime is relentlessly crushing dissent

(CNN) -- Thailand's new military ruler has added a personal touch to his junta's post-coup charm offensive, penning the lyrics to a patriotic ballad vowing to "return happiness" to the country.

Performed by the Royal Thai Army band, the song, "Return Happiness to Thailand," has so far racked up more than 200,000 views on YouTube since it was released on Friday. It is played regularly on Thai radio and television and has featured at the military's goodwill concerts around the country.

Colonel Krisada Sarika, head of the Royal Thai Army band, was quoted in Thai media as saying Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha had rattled off the lyrics, in his own handwriting, in about an hour.

The song includes the couplet: "Let us be the ones who step in before it is too late / To bring back love, how long will it take?"

Since the May 22 coup d'etat, the country's 12th in 82 years, Thailand's junta has embarked on an unprecedented PR campaign to win hearts and minds in a divided country.

The National Council for Peace and Order, as the regime calls itself, has held public festivals featuring mini-skirted dancers, free haircuts, petting zoos and stands where the attendees can take "selfies" with soldiers. On Sunday, the regime is promising free tickets to screenings of a patriotic movie across the country.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said the PR campaign was far more intense than those following previous coups.

"Earlier coups did not require as much PR campaigning because public expectations and media tools of scrutiny at home and abroad were less pervasive and powerful," he said.

The campaign has been conducted under the banner of "happiness." On Friday, Prayuth delivered the first of a planned weekly TV and radio broadcast, "Returning Happiness to the People," in which he repeatedly struck on the concept while outlining his junta's vision.

"We need to solve many issues; from administration to the budget system, corruption, and even the starting point of democracy itself -- the election. Parliamentary dictatorship has to be removed. All these have caused conflict and unhappiness among Thai people," he said, in comments questioning whether Thailand was ready for democracy.

"We intend to return happiness to everyone living in Thailand."

WATCH: Thai protesters reference Hunger Games movies

But the cheery overtures have been accompanied by an unrelenting crackdown on dissent, with hundreds of people rounded up, including academics, journalists, activists and politicians.

The junta has urged government officials to identify potential troublemakers among their colleagues, and issued warnings about liking dissenting posts on social media or flashing the three-fingered anti-coup salute co-opted from the Hunger Games films.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, described the happiness campaign as a "gimmick," and a "very crude form of populism" that was unlikely to work.

"I don't think the majority of Thais will buy into this happiness project, because there is nothing to be happy about when your basic human rights have been taken away, when you cannot even express how you feel in public peacefully," he said.

"The reality is they're continuing to hunt down and harass people. Happiness versus a climate of fear -- it doesn't go together."

Thitinan said he believed the campaigning might help the regime, but only in the short-term.

"Initially, the hearts-and-minds campaigns will seem to hold promise because of the complete dominance of the new regime and the lack of alternatives," he said.

"But it would be surprising if these superficial and manufactured approaches succeed in resolving such deep-seated conflicts that have built up over many years."

READ MORE: Miss Universe Thailand steps down over 'red shirts' slur

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Thailand coup
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 0721 GMT (1521 HKT)
The military leader who took control of Thailand in a coup in May has been named the country's prime minister.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 0437 GMT (1237 HKT)
Thailand's new military ruler has added a personal touch to the post-coup charm offensive, writing the lyrics to a pro-junta ballad.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0503 GMT (1303 HKT)
Pageant winner Weluree "Fai" Ditsayabut has relinquished her title under a barrage of criticism over her comments about red shirts.
June 4, 2014 -- Updated 1132 GMT (1932 HKT)
They may not be led by Katniss Everdeen, but Thai protesters have adopted one of her symbols. Jessica King reports.
May 26, 2014 -- Updated 0729 GMT (1529 HKT)
The general who seized control of Thailand in a coup has announced he has received royal endorsement to run the country.
May 25, 2014 -- Updated 1901 GMT (0301 HKT)
Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is no longer in military custody, according to a highly placed source in the junta.
May 25, 2014 -- Updated 0936 GMT (1736 HKT)
Photos of the demonstrations against military rule in Thailand.
May 24, 2014 -- Updated 2003 GMT (0403 HKT)
U.S. suspends $3.5 million in aid to Thailand after the military took charge of the country.
May 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
Thailand's military declared Thursday that it has taken control of the country in a coup. What does it mean? Here's our explainer.
May 23, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
If you're planning on visiting the country, you should be aware of what's going on.
May 23, 2014 -- Updated 0855 GMT (1655 HKT)
The U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney, reacts to the Thai military coup.
May 23, 2014 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
The Thai military has censored TV and radio -- and social media could be next.
May 22, 2014 -- Updated 1802 GMT (0202 HKT)
Many people are going about their lives as normal -- some are even responding playfully.
One iReporter living in Bangkok says he is more worried about neighborhood snakes than the military coup.
May 22, 2014 -- Updated 2148 GMT (0548 HKT)
Thailand's military chief announces coup in a televised national address.
ADVERTISEMENT