By Jocelyn Gecker
BANGKOK (AP) – First, Thailand’s junta seized power, then they commandeered every TV channel for round-the-clock broadcasts of dour announcements and patriotic hymns. The public’s verdict: DJ, please change the soundtrack.
And after about 24 hours, they did.
As the sun set on Bangkok May 23, Thailand’s sappy soap operas flickered back on just as suddenly as they’d vanished a day earlier. After a full day of marching music and military ballads of a bygone era, things began returning to normal — at least on television.
In this day and age, it’s not surprising that the generals who launched Thailand’s coup have set up a Facebook page.
But it was a sign of the times that the junta’s vintage tunes didn’t resonate with the Facebook generation.
“Since you’re reforming politics, you might as well reform your music,” said one of many postings on the page, which had over 230,000 likes by evening, up exponentially from earlier in the day.
Song requests poured in — for Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, the Disney hit “Let It Go,” and for foot-tapping Thai folk music.
“Please give us something more uplifting,” said another comment on the page, which bears the junta’s self-declared name: National Peace and Order Maintaining Council.
The running commentary offered a lighthearted and lively sideshow to the otherwise dramatic events unfolding in Thailand, where the military declared martial law on May 20 and then announced two days later it was overthrowing the government.
The country’s powerful army chief, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, justified the coup as a means of restoring stability and avoiding more violence in a crisis that has left 28 dead and hundreds injured since it escalated seven months ago.
But some on social media joked that the nationalistic hymns could unleash old aggressions.
“Play other songs, will you! Your marching music is making me so patriotic that I want to wield a sword and slash some Burmese!” — a reference to Thailand’s historical enemy and neighbor, now known as Myanmar.
The Facebook page was created May 20 to post the military’s announcements and edicts. But the complaints started streaming in May 22, after all TV programming was replaced by a static blue screen showing military crests, as martial music played in the background. There was no apparent crackdown on the criticism, despite an order that asked social media sites to suspend services if any messages opposed the coup makers.
Not all the postings were about music.
While schools were ordered closed, parents posted pleas for the return of children’s channels, “Can I have my TV back? At least the cartoon channel for my kid? It won’t hurt national stability,” said one father.
One woman posted a picture of a smiling shirtless soldier and asked, “Do you know if he has a girlfriend? I like him.”
The coup was the 12th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.
In the coup’s aftermath, there was confusion over many things, including why at precisely 6 p.m. on May 23 that all TV channels returned without explanation and then later in the evening, some relayed the broadcast of the military-run Channel 5.
The junta’s Facebook followers posted an outpouring of thanks for stopping the music.
“TV is back! Thank you for listening to the voice of the people.” (end)
Associated Press writer Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok contributed to this report.