How a rap video could become the fault line of Thailand's long-awaited elections

Members of the group Rap Against Dictatorship perform "Prathet Ku Mee" on stage in Bangkok on Oct. 27, 2018.

(CNN)A music video that criticizes Thailand's military government has become a big hit in the Southeast Asian nation, indicating that public frustration with more than four years of military rule is mounting ahead of upcoming nationwide elections.

The song, "Prathet Ku Me," or "What My Country's Got," by Thai rap group Rap Against Dictatorship, has been watched more than 24 million times since it was posted to YouTube eight days ago.
Lyrics that include the lines: "The country that points a gun at your throat / claims to have freedom but no right to choose" lambast alleged corruption, lack of elections and suppression of free speech — issues critics say have become hallmarks of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha's regime since he seized power in a military coup in 2014.
    Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, one the group's co-founders, told CNN they want to send a message to the public through their music.
      "Our main goal to set up this group is just like our name, Rap Against Dictatorship. We want to use rap songs to fight against dictators," Dechathorn said.
      Under Prayuth's watch, hundreds of activists have been arrested and prosecuted, political activity has been banned, and the sphere for robust public discourse has all but disappeared thanks to draconian laws that restrict online expression and increase surveillance and censorship.

      'Unprecedented' attention

        "It is just about unprecedented for a music video of any kind in Thailand to accumulate so much viewership within a week," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.
        "The song taps into collective and pent-up anxiety and frustration. Its lyrics are a litany of political ills and social injustice Thailand is afflicted with."
        The song, which also confronts human rights abuses, poverty, access to healthcare, and government accountability, appeared to stoke the ire of the country's military leaders.
        Prayuth reacted to the song Monday, saying to reporters "When you listen to it, do you think it's true? Do you think it is that bad? Do you think I am that dictatorial?"
        He later gave a warning, saying on Tuesday that, "Anyone that shows appreciation toward the song must accept responsibility for what happens to the country in the future," local media reported.
        While an investigation into whether the lyrics break any laws is ongoing, deputy National Police Chief Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said Tuesday that there was insufficient evidence to charge the rappers for now.
        Dechathorn said he can thank Thai authorities for the song's success. It was only after police began investigating the group that the song went viral.

        Resistance as art

        According to Dechathorn, the underground rap community is growing in Thailand, and many artists are performing and producing songs to talk about the current situation in the country.
        "We intend to release more political songs to tell what is going on Thailand," he said.
        And rappers aren't the only artists using their talents to criticize how the country is run. Masked graffiti artist Headache Stencil has made a name for himself satirizing the junta and its policies on Bangkok's walls.
        One of his most recognized pieces is an image of Prime Minister Prayuth depicted as a "lucky cat" in style of a Japanese "maneki-neko," with with its paw raised to beckon in money.
        The Thai street artist who goes by the name of "Headache Stencil" walks next to his graffiti caricature of Thailand's junta chief depicted as a "lucky cat" with paw raised to rake in money, spray-painted on a fence in Bangkok.

        Election flip-flopping

        A major theme running through "Prathet Ku Me" is the issue of elections.
        Despite Prayuth promising to hold nationwide polls and restore Thailand to some degree of democratic civilian government, elections have been repeatedly postponed. After more than four years of military rule, a ballot is slated to be held in February 2019, eight years after the last elections.
        Even with a democratically elected government, the armed forces will effectively have the final say in the country's political future.
        The military-drafted 2016 constitution -- the country's 20th since absolute monarchy ended in 1932 -- allows for an unelected prime minister and a third of the legislature to be appointed by the military.
        There are also indications that supporters of Prayuth are seeking to keep him in office. In September, four key ministers in his Cabinet formed a new political party and that same month Prayuth told reporters that he was "interested in politics," local media reported.
        With the military wanting to return to government legitimately, suppressing the rappers for their hugely popular song could risk alienating a big part of its voter base, according to Thitinan.
        But by allowing it, more of Thai society will see this public display of the military government's shortcomings.