Several hundred people turned out in Bangkok Wednesday for an entertainment-filled event put on by the Thai military, which carried out a bloodless coup on May 22nd. The performance was seen as a way for the public to show support for the army’s action and serve as a public relations counterweight to sporadic but illegal rallies protesting the military takeover.
Thailand’s junta, which has assumed all legislative and executive powers in the kingdom, is hoping to counter these scenes, which have demonstrated to the country and the world that there is opposition to its coup.
While trying to stifle dissent through a show of force on the streets, media censorship and summoning hundreds of people to turn themselves in, the military is also launching a charm offensive under the banner of “bringing back happiness.”
In the first such show of good cheer, an army band and uniformed singers entertained the crowd with popular and traditional songs.
A sideshow featured some soldiers dancing with citizens.
There were also opportunities to pose alongside elite members of the armed forces.
Even the cavalry turned up for photo ops.
The most popular attraction, judging by the line, was the serving station for free portions of omelette rice dished out by smiling soldiers.
This all occurred in front of Victory Monument, the venue for several small-scale, non-violent demonstrations against the military’s 12th successful coup since 1932, which pushed aside the caretaker cabinet and the partly-elected Senate.
For many of these Thais, the army chief’s declaration that democracy is on hold for at least a year - is a welcome and overdue move.
“I am so happy they’re doing this. They should have done it a long time ago," said a woman.
“I am happy, as well. They should have taken over previously. I like it. Politics is too complicated," said a man.
The master of ceremonies, Sgt. Nimit Supphaprasirt of the Royal Thai Army band, deemed the three-hour concert a success.
“Today we are bringing back happiness to the people. [Bring happiness back to Thailand.] It’s for Thai people to be happy, to smile again. Today we soldiers, the police, all the armed forces - everyone, here is happy," said Supphaprasirt.
The military is planning to take this show on the road, with the next concert planned for Sunday in the capital in order to spread the message that Thailand’s latest coup should be equated with happiness.