Junta faces string of PR disasters in the South

Despite its efforts to regain mass support, the junta is facing a backlash for cracking down on anti-power plant protesters and a series of ham-fisted statements. 
 
Southerners used to play an active role in the anti-election movement, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), that paved the way for the 2014 coup. 
 
However, over the past three years, the ruling junta has put in place various policies that have affected the livelihood of southerners, such as regulations on fishing and plans for coal-fired power plants in the area. Combined with a failure to manage rubber prices, the junta’s popularity in the south seems in decline.
 
So the junta over the past month has made efforts to boost its popularity, not only in the south but nationwide. These have included a cabinet reshuffle and a tour by the junta head across several provinces. But Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s recent visit to the south has backfired badly. 
 
Since it is a rare chance for local people to meet the Prime Minister, many villagers came to greet Gen Prayut and tell him of their difficulties. One fisherman met Prayut in Pattani and spoke out against the junta’s fishery regulations, which places excessive restrictions on poor fishermen. Unfortunately, this irked the Prime Minister who aggressively dismissed the grievance. 
 
“Calm down! Don’t yell at me, understand? I’m listening to you. You can speak to me nicely,” snapped Gen Prayut, before turning away. 
 
Though the junta head has since apologised for yelling at the fisherman, the damage to the junta’s popularity was already done. 
 
Tensions in the South were already high after protesters began a march on 24 November to submit a petition to the junta head against a planned coal-fired power plant and deep sea port in Songkhla. Authorities intercepted them on 27 November and arrested 16 individuals, who have now been released on bail. One arrestee was only 16 and later sent to Juvenile Court.
 
 
 
The arrested protesters being taken to prison
 
Shortly after the crackdown, the image of one protester named Mustarseedeen Waba being arrested was widely shared on Thai social media. He was believed to have been abducted by the authorities and his family was unable to contact him after the crackdown. 
 
Although his family later told the media that Mustarseedeen was safe and that the allegations of abduction were unfounded, the junta’s response evolved into yet another PR catastrophe. 
 
On 28 November, the PM’s spokesperson Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd speculated that perhaps Mustarseedeen had merely been spending time with another woman who is not is wife.
 
Suraini Sainui, Mustarseedeen’s wife, told the media on 29 November that as a government spokesperson, Sansern should be careful with his choice of words so as to not intensify conflict.
 
“You should show more professionalism than this,” Saraini said of Sansern. “Whatever you say, you are communicating with the people. Your words have a direct effect on the people. Especially at a time when our family is worried, hearing statements like this from a leader of the country is even more disappointing.” 
 
Beset by its failure to cope with economic decline and the mysterious death of a freshman cadet, the junta’s political popularity has hit the lowest point since it seized power three years ago.
 
 
Mustarseedeen Waba being arrested