The good General and his thoughts

In a televised address on 17 June 2017, General Prayut Chan-o-cha released ‘50 thoughts’. The junta leader took great pains to emphasize that the ‘thoughts’ were not questions, and made it clear, in fact, that he does not necessarily want answers — he apparently simply wants the people to hear and to approve the junta’s principles and logic.

The first 25 are translated below. The Good General, as always, is chatty and idiomatic, so it is often unclear precisely what he means. The list consists largely of platitudinous desiderata with little or no substance or context. In many of these, General Prayut seems not to fully understand the topic (e.g. #3 where he confuses “value chain” with inter-class linkages) and fails to notice contradictions (e.g. #24). Nevertheless, he is genuinely well-intentioned and the desiderata are generally desirable: environmental protection and equality under the law would be good. He is also right to put these out for discussion, assuming he wants discussion, as he seems at a loss how to achieve these ideals and indeed envision what they would look like in practice.

Some of the items are rather puzzling. For example, he advocates creating legal means of making a decent living for those pursuing illegal livelihoods in one item, but in another, calls for heavier punishment for illegal loggers. Some are surprising. Calling for equality under the law, both in enforcement and in the judicial system, is highly laudable. This is surprising in the context of the junta’s enforcement of the lèse-majesté law against junta critics with unequal vigor, for example, in the case of the human rights award-winning ‘Pai’ Dao Din

Unfortunately, the Good General evidently has a poor grasp of economics. For instance, his expectation that “forging links among all classes” will lead to monopolies being replaced by mutual generosity is both utopian and displays a poor grasp of culture and psychology.

Additionally, the Good General appears to advocate his self-penned 12 Core Values in a way that lacks any real notion of implementation. When he speaks of “Getting Thais to…” have respect, be generous, and on and on, he is in fact calling for profound changes in cultural values, as actually practiced rather than as recited in classrooms. Culture, the way people live and interact, does not, cannot, change on command, or quickly. It is as though he were saying, pleading almost:

If only everyone were moral, kind, generous, putting country before self, and on and on, we could eliminate poverty, crime, and the like and everything would be copasetic.

That, in fact, seems to be his entire mode of governance.

But we’ll let the General speak for himself.

1.     How can national development be achieved in a sustainable manner? There must be robust development simultaneously at the regional, sub-regional, provincial, and local community levels as is possible given currently differing and unequal potential.

2.     Improve the economy simultaneously at both the macro and micro [lit: “fundamental root”] levels.

3.     Link up value chains and distribute income from the upper, middle, and lower [Classes? Links in the value chain?]. It must be understood that the nature of economic mechanisms is such that the shares of income, most profits, will go to the upper levels/classes since they are, for the most part, the investors and incur the most risk, with the possibility of loss on investment and profits. Before getting to this point it may be that there are high profits with shareholders realizing large dividends. They nevertheless face risk and may suffer significant losses in the future. Therefore, by forging links among all levels/classes, bringing all activities together, I believe, monopolies can be eliminated, with self-dealing for private benefit changing to dependence upon each other in mutual generosity.

4.     Fully distributing income and development among localities at every level: Some localities remain unequal. The roadways are not as good as those of others, but today everyone wants the same. It can’t be. We must do everything equally for all and then expand on that. For example, to widen a road to three, four or six lanes, the third must be added too. That is, linkages must be forged first.

5.     State enterprises must expend allocated budgets in ways that transparently realize fair value, and must be managed efficiently and effectively.

6.     Increasing state revenues for a sufficient budget in order to ensure the provision of the many dimensions of various government public service systems, from education, public health, and transportation to providing electrical power. These are all state responsibilities, some provided for a price some for free. Thus the budgetary burden trends upward into the future, whether due to the people, the increasing population, the growing number of older persons, the growing number of sick people, I don’t know. But we must prepare to ensure that there are measures to reduce risks and build resilience.

7.     That low-income persons have sufficient cash for subsistence, able to live in the era of globalization where technology is a significant factor driving rapid change: how may we use the benefits of modern technology for the maximum possible benefit, being equally thrifty throughout?

8.     Taking care of the people of every segment, every persuasion, with a limited budget: I have spoken of this before.

9.     How can we take care of every segment of those with little income, beginning with building equality, reducing inequality, and [re?]distributing income, then expanding into adding value, building linkages in every dimension, building strength with the people and increasing the nation’s competitive edge?

10.  For those of low income, especially who earn their incomes illegally, providing new alternatives, opportunities to adopt honest, legal means of livelihood, for example, trade, work-for-hire, and self-employment. Grey-market work negatively impacts security, from establishing order, obstructing traffic, and violation of good order to generating filth, absence of quality, uncleanness, lack of standards, and the like. We need to find appropriate ways to proceed.

11.  National development: we must proceed together as partners along every economic and social dimension in environment-friendly ways. We shall drive human rights in the operation of business. Businesses must be concerned with protection, respect and healing as appropriate to the operation of business. I am strict on every issue, most especially in the use of natural resources for production both agricultural and industrial. Management in all things must be for balance and sustainability. We must work together in the development and preservation of natural resources and the environment. Don’t do anything that will result in negative impacts.

12.  Utilizing our country’s natural resources effectively, efficiently and thriftily. Our supplies of land and water, for example are limited. We can reduce the consumption of resources while increasing production, benefit, and added value more than in the past. In places with much land but little water, plant just the amount that you can. I don’t know why you would exceed that.

13.  Protecting wilderness areas from incursion and further damage: In spite of our great efforts bad elements remain. Therefore, we much impose heavy punishments. Officials must not collude and must employ appropriate management processes that are good for the country, effective for agricultural land, sufficient water sources for production, both agricultural and industrial, a proper share of the land as wilderness etc. It is difficult to rehabilitate lost wilderness but we must help each other and live together. We can all live with wilderness; more wilderness makes people happy. Whatever the law says, we must seek appropriate ways of doing it.

14.  Maintaining our nation such as to give rise to continuing peace, happiness, and security in one’s person and property.

15.  Getting Thais to understand “sufficient”: in the meaning of the word and in correct practice, appropriate and sufficiency. This is the most important in today’s world.

16.  Getting every Thai to be concerned with national welfare before private welfare. That is, working together, thinking together. If we fail to hold to the common welfare and don’t invest in basic public utilities, what will individuals get in return? We have been pursuing our lives together for a long time now.

17.  Getting Thais to respect the law, recognizing the value of ethics and morality, regardless of personal necessity or problems such as poverty, ignorance, and convenience. We must adapt to each other so that we will come to understand. 

18.  Getting Thais to understand the reduction of egoism, not taking oneself as most important, in behavior and in thought. We must also give importance to the common interest. We must bear with difficulty/be patient, understand the acceleration of work, help reduce inequality, build justice/morality, and be subject to the same laws. We must not claim special privileges based on poverty, wealth or anything else. That leads to social chaos.

19.  Getting Thais to have good sense, with an ideology of sacrifice, truthfulness, honesty, and to share, not forgetting their Thai identity.

20.  Reducing social problems, crime, domestic violence, and disregard for the law. These negatively impact society and the nation.

21.  Mechanisms for preventing bad, dishonest people from using loopholes in the law for personal benefit and a fair process reducing inequality and providing justice for those of every class, such that all can defend themselves in court and preserve their rights. For example, by increasing the existing Justice Fund.

22.  Getting Thais to have pride in their nationality. This is the most important: Pride in the nation with its lovely history and culture and the loveliness of our nation, together with adapting ourselves for the ability to thrive in the age of globalization as is appropriate, both East and West.

23.  Having the nation’s children and youth flourish and grow on the basis of knowledge paired with morality as good citizens of the future.

24.  Building educational processes emphasizing critical thinking among Thais.

25.  Building trust within society, among the people, government workers, civilians, police, military, and all sectors so as to reduce mutual suspicion, increase mutual care and good feeling, and to live together under the same law, respected by all and equally enforced, eliminating conflict. Both factions, both officials and the people, must seek a direct pathway out.

Given the repetitive, often contradictory and predictable nature of these distressingly vapid ‘thoughts’, together with the lack of details or examples, the translator became weary after the first 25.

Sorry.

Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha

Stephen A. Evans is a member of the Project for a Social Democracy Working Group, translator and Buddhist Studies scholar with publications in Buddhist ethics and epistemology among other topics. His personal website is https://sites.google.com/site/accesstoacademicpapers/)