Magazine | Politics | Southeast Asia

Thailand: The Price of ‘Happiness’

On the two-year anniversary of the 2014 coup, Thais wonder if it’s brought the security and prosperity promised.

By Serhat Ünaldi for
Thailand: The Price of ‘Happiness’
Credit: Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters

When, on May 22, 2014, General Prayut Chan-o-cha announced, “I have decided to seize power,” few observers realized that the sound of his fist banging on the negotiation table was meant to signal the beginning of an era of bliss for the Land of Smiles. To get his message across, shortly after the coup the junta released a song, “Returning Happiness to the People,” written within a creative hour by none other than Prayut himself. A look at the lyrics is revealing.

In the very first line, Prayut predicted that the “day the nation, the king, and the mass of people live without danger” was not too far away. And indeed, the semblance of stability has returned to the kingdom after years of street politics and violent clashes between supporters of democracy and conservative royalists. Instead of letting the people work out for themselves the course of their country – a progressive course toward representative government that has historically been rather fraught in other parts of the world – the military decided to take the steering wheel, convinced that it had the only viable roadmap to a better future.

Of course, the ticket for that happy ride was not free of charge. To “live without danger,” the nation, the king, and the people had to pay a price.