Fengshui figures in Thai PM's move
AS HE prepares to move in to Bangkok's Government House this week, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is going to great lengths to sweep away any occult challenge.
General Prayuth, 60, has left nothing to chance since leading a military coup to topple a democratically elected government on May 22. After a meticulously planned power grab, he has systematically snuffed out dissent.
That meticulousness is being carried through to his government. Like many politicians and generals before him, Gen Prayuth believes in spiritualism and divination. On Monday, members of his entourage were seen carrying Buddha statues and religious idols thought to bring luck in to Government House.
But his beliefs go beyond conventional religion. Last week, Gen Prayuth told an audience of dousing himself from head to toe in holy water as his enemies had tried to curse him.
However, army officials say his views on the spirit world and rituals to ward off evil are unlikely to influence government policy.
"Like most Thais, Gen Prayuth has a deep respect for the spirit world, but his policies will be determined by urgency, practicality and the needs of the people," Veerachon Sukhontapatipak, deputy spokesman for the army, told Reuters.
Despite its outwardly modern appearance, everyday life in Thailand still prominently features pre-Buddhist animist beliefs.
The timing of yesterday's move into the prime ministerial offices was carefully planned.
Gen Prayuth's Cabinet started work at 9am on Sept 9, say media reports - an auspicious number in a country where numbers mean everything.
The number nine - pronounced "Gaow" in Thai - is considered especially lucky. It sounds like the Thai word "Gaow-Nah", which means to progress.
Furniture in Gen Prayuth's designated office has been arranged according to the principles of fengshui, a Chinese form of geomancy or belief that the universe is made up of five elements: earth, water, fire, wood and metal.
"Gen Prayuth's work table has been placed in the east of the work room as this is thought to aid quick solutions," a prime ministerial aide, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
"The tones in the building will mostly be green, as this is the army's colour, and Gen Prayuth, as army chief, is compatible with green."
The straight-talking Prime Minister surprised some observers when he referred to black magic during a meeting last week.
"I have a sore throat and pain in my neck. Someone said there are people putting curses on me," he said. "I had so much lustral water poured over my head that I shivered all over."
Critics say the survival of these beliefs harms democracy and the course of politics should be dictated by the will of the living, rather than politicians' belief in spirits and the stars.
"It is not uncommon to use astrologers to decide what day and time to stage a coup, for example," said Kan Yuenyong, an analyst at think-tank Siam Intelligence Unit.
"It's not just Gen Prayuth, it's all Thai leaders, and it can be a dangerous (course to take) because, instead of analysing a situation according to facts and the political situation on the ground, they might rely on astrology and worsen a volatile situation."