As this is being written, Rap Against Dictatorship’s (RAD) “What my country's got” (Prathet Goo Mee) has managed to garner more than 28 million views on YouTube, and is still being talked about in both, foreign and local news. The catchy rap is undoubtedly the talk of many a young Thai as well.
While the song (and its popularity) has certainly hit a nerve with the military junta in Thailand - the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) - Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha initially brushed it off by refusing to refer to the song directly, instead pointing to it as “the matter” and speaking generally about social media.
“Viewers should use their own discretion to decide whether or not the matter is appropriate or even worthy of their attention. Be mindful of rights and freedoms and not allow themselves to be used as a political tool by others,” he said.
This would have been a much better strategy for the prime minister than what ultimately surfaced in the days that followed.
A weak response
Prayut’s apparent disinterest in the matter and at least seeming to put his faith in the better judgment of the Thai people could have placed him in a respectable position as a strong and confident leader, albeit a little arrogant to some. The best reaction – and one many were surely hoping for – would have, of course, been to address the grouses presented in the song’s lyrics in the first place.
Unfortunately, Prayut chose neither of these responses. Instead, the NCPO came up with a rap riposte utilising a much tamer theme and urging people to do their best for today and tomorrow. The song is titled “Thailand 4.0”.
A quick YouTube search revealed that the “Thailand 4.0” video has so far managed to garner a little more than 4,000 views at the time of writing. No match to the 28 million plus views that the original video has received so far.
Experts have yet to weigh-in on the matter but what is obvious is that RAD’s video is aimed at Thais who believe that there’s something fundamentally wrong about having an unelected government run by the military. The fact it has garnered so much traction possibly shows that RAD’s message resonates better with a larger number of Thais.
The Thailand 4.0 song contains lyrics such as “if you're growing rice, planting vegetables and doing farming, just inject the ideas and price will increase". Lyrics like these raise the question as to how many farmers (the obvious target audience) are really thinking about Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Source: Various sources
Unfortunately, the only thing the Thailand 4.0 video has managed to do so far is to draw attention to - and remind people about - RAD’s anti-junta song. A song that is damaging enough to the junta’s image that the NCPO decided to come up with its Thailand 4.0 song in response.
The latest poll conducted by the National Institute for Development Administration (NIDA) shows dwindling support for Prayut with 51.7 percent of respondents saying they would not vote for him as the next prime minister compared to 47.5 percent who said they would. 0.7 percent were uncertain or had no comment but if RAD’s “stay quiet… or stay in jail” lyric holds any water then some assumptions can be made about the 0.7 percent as well.
According to the NCPO’s latest promise, Thais could possibly go to the polls in early 2019. That does not leave Prayut a lot of time for damage control and since he has announced an interest in mainstream politics, then, damage control is exactly what Prayut needs.
One possible method of damage control for Prayut is to do what he should have done in the first place - address the many grouses presented in RAD’s lyrics whether they are legitimate or not. If they are legitimate, fixing the situation would only help his cause. Prayut can still come out on top of this if he spends more time finding ways to put smiles back on the faces of people in the land of smiles, and less time on music wars.