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Born in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima, Prayuth began his career at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, which is considered to be Thailand’s West Point. As a young officer, he won the Ramathipodi medal, the country’s top honor for gallantry in the field. “When I was young, patriotism was all about joining the army, fighting in the front line for your country,” he says. “I told myself that I had to dedicate my life for my homeland and the monarchy.”
The royal family is treated with almost divine reverence in Thailand. Prayuth strengthened ties with the royal household and earned himself the nickname Little Sarit, after Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, who seized power through a putsch in 1957 and helped raise the monarchy to its paramount role in Thai society. Today every Thai household displays a portrait of the monarch as the highest picture in the room. And the country boasts some of the world’s strictest royal defamation laws, which are increasingly being used to crush dissent.
Many believe Prayuth’s coup was meant to ensure that Thailand’s elites remained in control during a sensitive time of royal succession. Thailand’s new King, Maha Vajiralongkorn, leads an unconventional lifestyle and does not command the same respect that his father did. Prayuth says simply that he took control to restore order. “I could not allow any further damage to be done to my country,” he says, with a dash of histrionics. “It was at the brink of destruction.”
Prayuth was only four months from mandatory retirement when he seized power on May 22, 2014, after six months of street protests against the elected government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The demonstrations claimed at least 28 lives and left more than 700 injured. For more than a decade, Thailand has been wracked with color-coded street protests between the typically rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin–who served as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006–and their mainly urban opponents, backed by the powerful royal palace, military and judiciary. The pro-Yingluck faction wear red. Their opponents wear yellow.
Those who oppose him can suffer dire consequences. Nuttaa Mahattana, 39, is one of the five leaders of the “We Want to Vote” movement, who were detained at a peaceful protest on the fourth anniversary of Prayuth’s coup. She faces various draconian charges, including sedition, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment. “A junta doesn’t belong in a democratic system,” Nuttaa tells TIME from behind the bars of her squalid cell in central Bangkok. “Most people want to see democracy. They just don’t want to see their family members getting arrested.”
Prayuth is unmoved when pressed about the fate of demonstrators. “We have been rather lenient,” he says. “If we allowed them to demonstrate freely, it might become too difficult to move forward to democracy.”
This shift toward a loose authoritarianism revolving around a single figure is becoming a pattern across ASEAN. The Philippines–which, like Thailand, is a U.S. treaty ally–has moved firmly into China’s orbit under populist President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been criticized by the West for his brutal drug war. In Myanmar, international censure regarding the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority rings hollow as Chinese investment floods into the military-dominated country. And the Beijing-backed government of Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has cracked down on opposition politicians and critics in recent months.
Prayut Chan-ocha Full Biography and Profile
The 29th Prime Minister of Thailand, General Prayut Chan-ocha is born on March 21 in Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Focused and driven by his commitment to serve the country, he joins the Army the moment he completes his studies. The General’s career starts at the 21st Infantry Regiment, commonly known as the “Queen’s Guard”. This is where he starts a series of training programs, dedicating his life to the wellbeing of Thailand and to protecting the Monarchy.
General Prayut Chan-ocha begins serving as a deputy commanding general in the 2nd Infantry Division. His determination and skills put him in the lead only one year later, when he is named commanding general. He later becomes the deputy commanding general of the 1st Army in 2005, and the commanding general within one year.
Focused and driven by his commitment to serve the country, he joins the Army the moment he completes his studies. The General’s career starts at the 21st Infantry Regiment, commonly known as the “Queen’s Guard”. This is where he starts a series of training programs, dedicating his life to the wellbeing of Thailand and to protecting the Monarchy.
Known for his remarkable military skills and vast experience, General Prayut is named chief of staff of the Royal Thai Army in 2008. Not long after, in 2009, the King publicly acknowledges the General’s dedication and appoints him His honorary adjutant. In 2010, the General succeeds Anupong Paochinda as commander in chief.
On May 22nd, General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as the commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army, announces he is taking over duties as Prime Minister of Thailand. To protect the country from uprising violence and bloodshed, General Prayut, as leader of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), takes the reins. It is on May 26th, following King Bhumibol Adulyadej all-important seal of approval to the coup, that a new chapter in Thailand’s history rises under the leadership of General Prayuth Chan-o-cha.
General Prayut Chan-o-cha dedicates himself to maintaining peace and stability of the Kingdom while promoting national growth and development. “Stability, Prosperity, Sustainability” is his vision of Thailand’s future.
Prayuth also pens songs and poems to express himself, and released two commercial pop singles that received mixed reviews. “My songs may not be beautiful, but it’s a way to help me express my thoughts and communicate with the people,” he says. “Thai people love poetry.”
- Prayut Chan-ocha Full Biography and Profile (Time / Prayut Chan-ocha)