Track­suited Thai junta chief leads work­out for bu­reau­crats

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -


He’s a mer­cu­rial army gen­eral known for pen­ning sac­cha­rine bal­lads and an­gry tirades against his crit­ics. Now Thai­land’s junta chief has launched a new eye-catch­ing pro­ject: trim­ming the waist­lines of the king­dom’s civil ser­vants. For­mer army chief turned Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-OCha ditched his fa­tigues for a track­suit and trainers yes­ter­day as he led hun­dreds of bu­reau­crats in an mass ex­er­cise ses­sion.

As mu­sic blasted out of loud­speak­ers he boxed, played vol­ley­ball and led an aer­o­bics class, com­plete with star­jumps and squats, along­side hun­dreds of em­ploy­ees of Govern­ment House. The trim 62-year-old, who seized power in 2014, has or­dered all civil ser­vants to ex­er­cise every Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon fol­low­ing con­cerns that Thai­land’s fa­mously laid back at­ti­tude to life has thick­ened their waist­lines. Prayut rev­els in be­ing ma­cho, plain-speak­ing and un­pre­dictable-a de­meanor that cre­ates many amus­ing press ap­pear­ances and is a gift to so­cial me­dia meme-mak­ers.

High­lights have in­cluded him kick­ing a muay thai boxer, throw­ing a banana at a cam­era­man, tick­ling a re­porter’s ear and rid­ing a bike around Govern­ment House as his se­cu­rity de­tail jogged be­hind in the trop­i­cal heat. Each Friday night he de­liv­ers a na­tion­ally broad­cast “bring­ing hap­pi­ness back” speech in which he doles out ad­vice to Thais-any­thing from how to get for­eign­ers to ap­pre­ci­ate pun­gent durian fruit to the best Korean soap opera.

He has also writ­ten two bal­lads since his coup em­pha­siz­ing love for the na­tion and what it means to be Thai. Thai­land has been po­lit­i­cally divided since the mil­i­tary launched a coup in 2006 that top­pled Prime Min­is­ter Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra and his elected govern­ment. Years of de­bil­i­tat­ing street protests and another coup in 2014 that top­pled Yingluck Shi­nawa­traThaksin’s sis­ter-fol­lowed.

The Shi­nawa­tra clan is loved by Thai­land’s ru­ral and ur­ban poor. But they are loathed by Bangkok’s mid­dle classes and mil­i­tary elite, who say the fam­ily were cor­rupt. Prayut has vowed to bridge the coun­try’s di­vides but rec­on­cil­i­a­tion seems far off. His crit­ics see him as the most au­thor­i­tar­ian ruler Thai­land has had in a generation. Some have likened him to Field Mar­shal Phi­bun­songkhram, a Sec­ond World War-era dic­ta­tor who fa­mously is­sued decrees on how Thais should be­have, in­clud­ing how long they should sleep for, how they should spend their days off and how they should dress.— AFP

BANGKOK: Thai Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-O-cha plays with a ball dur­ing an ex­er­cise with govern­ment of­fi­cials at the Govern­ment House in Bangkok yes­ter­day. —AFP

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