Satire rips into chaotic Thai politics as polls near


Bangkok (AFP)

A billionaire ex-premier plays poker against the junta chief, who has extra cards tucked up his sleeve -- satirical swipes at the country?s chaotic politics are peppering Thai art galleries and social media with elections just weeks away.

Headache Stencil -- dubbed "Thailand's Banksy" -- has led the artistic charge against the powers that be.

His latest exhibition "Thailand Casino" which runs through the March 24 election, takes a hatchet to the junta and the power plays of its nemesis -- self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"This election is important... we're gambling as a nation," says Headache, whose jabs at the junta using the Bangkok's walls as a canvas have made him a hero of the city's counter-culture.

The army took power in 2014, its 12th successful coup in under 100 years, stifling dissent with a series of arrests, threats and special laws.

But the lid on dissent has been lifted in the run-up to the election.

Acerbic memes, blogs and tweets are ricocheting across social media, while chat shows, exhibitions -- and even t-shirts -- are shaping the conversation, caricaturing the main players in Thailand's political drama.

"You don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. You don't know what's going to happen in the next two months," Headache, who keeps his identity hidden, told AFP at the WTF cafe and gallery.

Junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha wants to return to government as a civilian leader.

But his nemesis -- the self-exiled Thaksin -- stands in his way, buttressed by the enduring electoral pull of his parties.

One of those, Thai Raksa Chart, was dissolved by a court on Thursday for proposing Princess Ubolratana as a candidate -- a bombshell move that was swiftly shot down by her younger brother King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Headache addresses the unprecedented power play with a Chinese calendar marked February 8 -- the date the princess made her political cameo -- positioned behind Thaksin's brass head, riven by a lightening strike from above.

A golden piggy bank with the face of the junta number-two sits in the gallery and cash, casino chips, guns and the word "military fund" are stencilled across the walls.

It's a dystopian vision of a country where army spending is vast and beyond scrutiny.

Headache, who keeps his face hidden behind a mask, says his motivation is to have fun at the expense of "the dictatorship".

Yet he is pessimistic democracy will ultimately triumph in a kingdom where the army and its allies bristle at political and economic challenges from below.

The former TV producer does however see the flurry of political engagement taking place over social media as a glimmer of hope in a kingdom where over seven million millennials are eligible to vote for the first time.

"It's powerful," Headache said, adding there is only one way to "know what people want... just go to elections."