'Gun at your throat': viral rap song tests freedom of speech in Thailand
Thailand 'Gun at your throat': viral rap song tests freedom of speech in Thailand
New song taps in to pent up anger over corruption and nepotism under countryâs ruling junta
In a sweaty Bangkok basement over the weekend, hundreds of young Thais, hands in the air, roared angrily along with a rap song being performed on stage. âMy country points a gun at your throat,â they sang. âIt claims to have freedom but gives no right to choose.â
Over the past week, the refrain âWhich is my countryâ has become the rallying cry for dissent in Thailand. It is the chorus of an anti-military rap song Prathet Ku Mee (What My Countryâs Got) which has become an unprecedented phenomenon in Thailand, racking up over 21 million views in just seven days and directly challenging the military government.
The song, performed by a group called Rap Against Dictatorship, has emerged as an unlikely opponent to the military governmentâs determination to maintain absolute control in Thailand while also trying to win popular support in the build up to the planned general election in February next year. The unelected junta took over in a coup in 2014 and now intends to run as a legitimate political party in the polls, which will be Thailandâs first election in eight years.Risk-taking artists defy Thai taboos at Bangkok Art Biennale Read more
The songâs lyrics, which confront corruption, nepotism, the lack of accountability and transparency, poor healthcare, suppression of freedom of speech and the privileges afforded the rich while the poor suffer, are some of the most forthright criticism of the military government to appear in popular culture since they took power.Such anti-regime sentiment is usually censored through the use of the draconian computer crimes act, where people can be arrested for just sharing or even discussing the video on social media.
Initially, the police threatened the artists with arrest for damaging the countryâs image and breaking the computer crimes act. However, the threats only served to elevate the songâs status and its popularity has made it impossible for the military to prevent it being shared online.
In an unusual u-turn on Monday, the police backed off. Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn, deputy director of the technology crime centre, even wrote a public post on Facebook declaring that no-one could be stopped from expressing opinions. For a regime that has spent the past four years locking up its critics, including arresting over 100 people under the computer crimes act, it was an unorthodox move.
âThe timing of this song was crucial, people are increasingly fed up and frustrated with this military government and they have not had a say for a long time, so itâs a combustable situation,â said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.
âSo when you have a rap song like this which is a broad statement against whatâs wrong with Thailand â" the unaccountable corruption, the lacklustre performance of the military regime, and the nepotism â" you can see that the litany of complaints has really hit the spot. Theyâve tapped perfectly into this pent up disaffection in Thailand.âThailand bay made famous by The Beach closed indefinitely Read more
Pongsudhirak said that the militaryâs desire to court public opinion in the run up to Februaryâs polls had put them in a âbindâ which the popularity of this song had accentuated; neither wanting to lose control in Thailand and allow the spread of anti-military feeling but also not wanting to lose the support of the tens of millions who have now watched and shared the Prathet Ku Mee video.
Even Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha seemed to respond to the allegations in the song on Monday presenting himself as a benevolent leader rather than a military dictator. âIs life really that hard? Is it that oppressive? Am I so dictatorial?,â he said. âDonât let anyone distort the facts.â
While political campaigning is still banned in Thailand, new political parties have been allowed to register and recent weeks have seen an increased flurry in political activity across the country, with even pro-democracy activists joining newly formed parties such as the pro-reform Future Forward party. An anti-coup punk concert, which was forced to cancel last year, has just been re-announced at Bangkokâs Thammasat university in November.
âThis song could lead to the opening of the floodgates of popular descent,â said Pongsudhirak. âIt absolutely spells trouble for the military.âTopics
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