Gucci coup: Gen Prawit gets trendy to woo army of young voters

Prawit Wongsuwan during the visit to Bangkok’s Chinatown during the recent Lunar New Year.

The ruling party appears to be reinventing the image of its leader, General Prawit Wongsuwan. His wardrobe has been updated with trendy clothes popular among fashion-conscious young celebrities half his age.

The 77-year-old, who also serves as deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs, recently appeared in Calvin Klein jeans, a Gucci jacket, and an eye-catching Hugo Boss sweatshirt during unofficial trips to various locations in Bangkok and the provinces.

While visiting Bangkok’s Chinatown during the recent Lunar New Year, Prawit wore a bright red shirt with a dark-green Gucci bomber jacket, jeans and sneakers.

Strolling around the upscale MFO (Or Tor Kor) Market in late January, Prawit appeared in a zip-up jacket made by Issue, a Thai designer brand. The jacket featured a colourful design of a tiger and a dragon made popular by certain showbiz celebrities with a “bad boy” image.

In early February, the deputy premier surprised morning joggers at Bangkok’s Lumpini Park. Prawit was taking a brisk walk in a grey Adidas warm-up jacket and a green polo shirt. He was greeted by passers-by, some of whom wished him success in the upcoming general election.

On February 18, Prawit was spotted with his nieces at popular food shops in Bangkok’s Giant Swing neighbourhood. He was wearing a Boss x Khaby zip-up sweatshirt featuring a colourful yellow and purple design inspired by TikTok star Khaby Lame.

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A kind and friendly uncle?

Along with the new fashionable look, the former Army chief has adopted a civilian image as a kind and friendly uncle in an apparent attempt to shed his reputation as a military strongman. Prawit has adopted a happy, approachable persona as he mingles with the public in markets and neighbourhoods, posing for selfies with fans and engaging in group activities like traditional Thai dance and walks in the park.

The “makeover” for Prawit’s image seemed to start in late August after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, his now estranged brother-in-arms, was suspended as PM pending a Constitutional Court verdict on his tenure limit. Back then, Prawit was spotted wearing tight jeans during weekend visits to the provinces.

Prawit recently disputed media claims that his new casual style was part of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party’s election campaign strategy.

“This is the way I normally dress,” he declared.

However, political analysts remain convinced that Prawit is adopting the avuncular look to appeal to young voters. The ruling party recently resolved to nominate him as its only candidate for prime minister in the next election.

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Targeting young voters

Assoc Prof Nantana Nantavaropas, dean of Krirk University’s Political Communication College, said Prawit appears to be competing with PM Prayut and other potential PM candidates to win the hearts of young voters, who number in the millions.

She said political parties are targeting voters from Generation Y and Z, aged between 18 and 42, as many of them are first-time voters who have yet to decide which party they favor. In contrast, Gen X and baby-boomer voters are often loyal to well-established and older parties, she added.

Thailand has about 11 million baby boomers (those aged 59 to 77), 16 million Gen X voters (aged 43-58), 15 million Gen Y voters (aged 27-42), and about 7 million Gen Z citizens (aged 11-26).

Nantana also pointed out that General Prayut has also changed his fashion style as the election countdown gets underway.

“Previously, he tended to wear business suits, official khaki attire, or military uniforms. But now he visits constituencies in a jacket just like other politicians. This is meant to show that he is closer to the people,” she said.

The academic judged that both Prawit and Prayut have adopted the political gimmick of trendy fashions and a friendly image to please young voters. However, she doubts this strategy will be effective.

“Voters tend to make decisions based on their confidence in the parties. They often choose the party with the ideology and policy platform that benefits them most.”

PM Prayut was Palang Pracharath’s sole prime ministerial candidate in the previous election, in March 2019. However, he recently defected to join a new outfit called Ruam Thai Sang Chart (United Thai Nation) and is expected to be its sole PM candidate in the next election tentatively scheduled for May 7.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk

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