BANGKOK (Reuters) - 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.
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, Prayuth believes in spiritualism and divination and 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, and last week, Prayuth told an audience of dousing himself from head to toe in holy water as his enemies had tried to curse him.
Army officials say his views on the spirit world and rituals to ward off evil are unlikely to influence government policy, however.
“Like most Thais, General 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 Tuesday’s move into the prime ministerial offices has been minutely planned.
Prayuth’s cabinet will start work at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 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 Prayuth’s designated office has been arranged according to the principles of feng shui, a Chinese form of geomancy or belief that the universe is made up of five elements - earth, water, fire, wood and metal.
“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 because he was not authorized to speak to media, told Reuters.
“The tones in the building will mostly be green, as this is the army’s color and Prayuth, as army chief, is compatible with green,” the aide said.
In March, an anti-government group, the Network of Students and People for Thailand’s Reform, held its own ceremony at Government House to reverse black magic said to have been used against them by members of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government.
Members of the group placed three Buddha statues in the complex’s main building to “destroy black magic”, a group leader said at the time.
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 Siam Intelligence Unit think tank.
“It’s not just Prayuth, it’s all Thai leaders, and it can be a dangerous (course to take) because, instead of analyzing a situation according to facts and the political situation on the ground, they might rely on astrology instead and worsen a volatile situation.”
Before the previous coup in 2006, which followed a year-long political crisis, renowned Thai fortune teller Warin Buawiratlert says he told General Sonthi Boonyaratgalin, then chief of the Royal Thai Army, that there would be a coup and Sonthi would lead it.
On Sept. 19, 2006, Sonthi overthrew the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon who won huge support among the poor but had made many enemies among the royalist establishment.
Warin recounted the prediction in a book written after the coup.
The straight-talking Prayuth seized power in a bloodless coup this year after months of protests in Bangkok by supporters of the royalist establishment against Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck.
However, he 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,” Prayuth said. “I had so much lustral water poured over my head that I shivered all over.”
Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Editing by Simon Webb and Clarence Fernandez