Thailand unrest: Get happy, army tells citizens


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The Independent Online

The junta that seized power last month has no plans to restore civilian rule soon. But it has launched an official campaign to bring back something it says the divided Thai people desperately need – happiness.

The project has involved free concerts, free food, dancers and even the chance to pet horses brought into central Bangkok. The fair-like events are supposed to pave the way for reconciliation after a decade of political upheaval and coups.

But critics point out the feel-good project is being carried out alongside an entirely different junta-led campaign – an effort to stifle all opposition to the army's putsch, which on 22 May deposed a government elected by a majority of Thai voters three years ago.

"The very first question you have to ask is, whose happiness are they talking about?" asked Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai professor of South-east Asian studies at Kyoto University. "I'm sure this is not happiness for Thais who want a civilian government, whose rights were taken away by the coup. It's surreal."

Last month's coup, the 12th in Thailand since 1932, ousted a civilian government accused of abuse of power and corruption.

The junta says it had to restore order after half a year of political turmoil left dozens dead and the government critically weakened.

Although the junta has censored partisan media on both sides, it has begun prosecuting opponents and summoned hundreds of politicians.