Political reform can't succeed without a sense of humour

Political reform can't succeed without a sense of humour
A group of 17 business leaders who met visiting Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha were told that, although challenges remain, there are strong prospects in the infrastructure and consumer sectors.
PHOTO: Reuters

Premier Prayut Chan-oh-cha told reporters last week that he was in fact a "funny guy" and that if he at times had looked miffed and frustrated over the questions posed by the scribes, he was only pretending. I assume he was suggesting that he in fact had a sense of humour that might not be apparent to the Thai people in general.

When in an appropriate mood, the premier can even manage amusing self-deprecating statements. They aren't exactly hilarious but the jokes can be interpreted as the sign of a personal and more human side to his otherwise tough-talking personality.

If that's true, then the police and military personnel trying to block "politically sensitive" banners carried by Thammasat University students last Saturday at the football match with Chulalongkorn were acting beyond the call of duty.

The blatant attempt at censorship of the traditional political satire at the annual event between the country's most prestigious universities was not funny at all, and the prime minister might want to inquire into who gave the orders to create an unnecessary scene that could only undermine the premier's stance on returning the country to democracy.

Some police officers reportedly rushed to close the stadium gates after spotting "inappropriate words" on some of the Thammasat banners. Then came an awkward stand-off between students and plainclothes police.

What were those "offending words"? The police wouldn't say. The students pressed on. The police relented but some of the banners were confiscated. But then, what escaped the authorities' intervention was enough to display the students' political thinking of the day.

Why the apparent paranoia? What's so "subversive" about the students making fun of the government's "12 Core Values" for the Thai people? What's so bad about mocking the PM's "Return Happiness to the Thai People" television programme, when even General Prayut himself has apologised to viewers whose pleasure might have been disrupted by his talk show?

If the country's leaders insist they aren't dictatorial and are determined to put the country back on a democratic track, what's "politically sensitive" about flash-card displays calling for the return of democracy and condemning dictatorship?

Another flash-card display declared: "We want democracy. When will you return it to us?" That, to me, is a perfectly fair question. What's so "provocative" or "subversive" about asking for democracy after all?

In fact, when compared with what you can read on the social media, the messages of mockery carried by the floats were mild.

If the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) insists that it is progressing according to its road map and that a general election will be held as scheduled next year, then why the fuss about students posing what should be a harmless question?

The country is supposed to be going through a national reform process, and if the authorities are serious about designing a new "democratic model" as they claim, then one of the most important steps to be taken is to embrace the ideas of the young people whose future is being determined today by the NCPO's so-called road map.

If our students can't even express their opinions about what's going on in the country openly at a traditional inter-university sports event, how can we expect their more serious and direct ideas for reshaping their social and political future environment to be heard at all?

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