Deadly Shrine Bomb Shatters "Happiness" Coup Propaganda
By Richard S. Ehrlich
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Police hoping to boost tourists' confidence
visited one of Bangkok's raunchiest red-light enclaves and described
the security situation to foreign men drinking beer with Thai bar
girls, five nights after a pipe-bomb killed 20 people at a shrine.
Grinning foreigners, clutching chilled bottles of beer while sitting
next to dolled-up Thai women at bars in the Nana Entertainment Zone,
listened with surprise to National Police Chief Somyot Poompunmuang
and his uniformed officers.
The garish, multistory Nana cul-de-sac is popular for its sensational
striptease bars, uninhibited nude lesbian cabaret, campy transsexual
clubs and illicit prostitution.
The August 22 nighttime meet-and-greet was one of several examples of
damage control, including earlier assurances by Thailand's military
regime to international diplomats that their embassies, staff,
commercial interests and citizens would be protected.
Detectives meanwhile appeared on August 22 at apartment buildings in
various neighborhoods, handing out a wanted poster showing their only
suspect -- a young man in a yellow T-shirt.
Gleaned from CCTV pictures in and around the Hindu shrine where the
explosion occurred, the identikit picture showed a pale, bushy-headed
man with wispy facial hair, wearing black-rimmed glasses, short pants,
tennis shoes and wide bandages wrapped around both forearms, while
carrying a black backpack and small blue bag.
The wanted poster of the unidentified "Bad Man" also portrayed him in three other versions: without glasses, bald with
glasses, and wearing a hat and glasses.
At this reporter's apartment building on August 22 afternoon, two plainclothes detectives politely questioned a
40-year-old unshaven German man who arrived in Thailand one day earlier to stay with friends.
"I heard about the bomb story, but I don't know why they are questioning me," the German said.
"We do not know the nationality of the bomber," Detective Athiphat Thammasri said in a brief interview while
photographing the German and his passport in the building's parking lot where they stopped him.
"We do not have a name either," Mr. Athiphat said.
After the detectives departed, the wanted poster was pasted inside the building's elevator.
The wanted poster also began appearing on gigantic billboards scattered across Bangkok.
Several people said the picture resembles convicted Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
The mysterious young man who allegedly planted the pipe-bomb at the glistening Hindu shrine in the congested heart of
Bangkok did not know his way around this city very well.
He directed taxi drivers to and from the shrine by showing them pieces of paper and directions from Google maps on his
phone's screen, police said.
But one week after the blast on August 17, it is the military regime's apparent cluelessness about who bombed the shrine
or why, that has resulted in criticism of the junta's self-proclaimed prowess.
In May 2014, just before his required retirement as army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha led an unpopular bloodless
coup against the elected government of premier Yingluck Shinawatra and arranged for himself to be prime minister.
But the shrine bomb shattered the dictatorship's 15-month-long expensive propaganda campaign which monotonously boasted
that Mr. Prayuth seized power to "Return Happiness to the People."
Many among Thailand's 66 million mostly Buddhist population had already been ignoring Mr. Prayuth's weekly lectures
which he requires to be broadcast nationwide simultaneously on all domestic TV channels.
Immediately after the explosion of ball-bearings, flames and shrapnel at the revered Erawan Shrine, many Thais went
online, exchanging information with each other faster than the regime's censors could control.
"If happiness couldn't unite us, perhaps tragedy can," wrote Bangkok Post's influential and astute columnist Kong
Mr. Prayuth's post-bomb behavior also made many people unhappy, because he was conspicuous by his absence.
He did not personally visit any of the more than 100 wounded survivors in Bangkok's hospitals.
"Our prime minister -- who says he is here to serve and bring about peace in this country -- has failed to undertake a
basic principle of being the leader of a nation," wrote Asia Focus editor Umesh Pandey.
"A visit by Gen. Prayuth would show he is more than a military general, but a human being as well."
Mr. Prayuth also did not attend a cathartic multi-faith prayer ceremony at the shrine on August 21, or any funerals in
"I am not afraid of dying, but I am afraid others may die with me, as my risk is increasing by the day," Mr. Prayuth
said, explaining his refusal to attend the public prayer ceremony which attracted others in his junta, alongside
religious leaders and diplomats.
Bizarrely, he instead suggested Thailand's senior police should educate themselves about how to investigate the bombing
by watching "Blue Bloods," a fictional American crime series about the New York Police Department, starring Tom Selleck.
"Police investigators, especially the national police chiefs, should watch this series," Mr. Prayuth told journalists.
"They will get tips, ideas and insights into their case," Mr. Prayuth said.
"The host of contradictory statements emanating from police -- and especially from the erratic and incompetent dictator
General Prayuth Chan-ocha -- suggest severe internal disarray, making it unclear whether the perpetrators will ever be
caught," wrote Lee Jones, London University's senior lecturer in international politics who recently authored a book
about "borderless threats and non-traditional security."
The military regime meanwhile freshened its public image on August 23.
"The Thai government would like to send a message to all foreigners who who plan to travel to Thailand for a visit -- be
it for tourism, business, education, a meeting, a seminar, a study tour, trade exhibition or any other purpose -- that
they can be sure of their safety during their stay in the country," announced junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Sansern
Kaewkammerd despite the bomber still on the loose.
"As always, you will be greeted with Thai hospitality, Thai smiles and Thai hearts."