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Why Did the Head of the Thai Junta Smell a Sock?

Critics of the Thailand's military government have been detained for voicing their opinions. But that hasn't stopped people from making fun of a photo of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha arrives at Government House before a cabinet meeting in Bangkok on August 9, 2016.
A referendum victory for Thailand's ruling generals over a new constitution is a "backwards" step for the country, toppled ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra said August 8 as the democracy movement reels from its first poll defeat in a decade. / AFP / LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA        (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha arrives at Government House before a cabinet meeting in Bangkok on August 9, 2016. A referendum victory for Thailand's ruling generals over a new constitution is a "backwards" step for the country, toppled ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra said August 8 as the democracy movement reels from its first poll defeat in a decade. / AFP / LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)

Thailand’s unelected prime minister, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, was taking a stroll through a government science expo Wednesday when he paused to sniff a “nanofiber” sock, fit snugly over what appears to be the foot and ankle of a mannequin leg amputated at the shin, just in time for a photographer for the news site Khaosod to snap a picture.

This wasn’t the first odd public moment for Prayuth, the former head of Thailand’s military and writer of pop song “Returning Happiness to Thailand,” since he seized power in 2014. His gaffes have at times taken a far less innocuous form: He once joked about executing journalists.

Needless to say, the sock photo went viral, with one Facebook user, Supanich Sakcha-um, posing the obvious question engendered by the affair: “Why on earth did he has [sic] to sniff that thing????”

Of the other three men who appear in the photo: One seems neutral, one grim, and one bemused.

Khaosod posted a story promising to explain the incident, titled “Here’s the Story Behind Photo of Prayuth Smelling a Sock.” However, all it provides by way of explanation is the following: “[A] particular nanofiber sock caught the retired general’s attention. So he picked it up and gave it a good whiff.”

Maybe he just wanted to see what it smelled like. I have to admit — I’m kind of curious myself.

Critics of the junta have been detained for voicing their opinions. But that hasn’t stopped people from making fun of the photo online. “He love [sic] disgusting things , Like this foul sock and his government,” one Facebook user wrote. While Prayuth’s crackdowns on protests and silencing of dissent may be more legitimate grounds for criticism, sock sniffing isn’t likely to win him any new fans.

Photo credit: LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images

Benjamin Soloway is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. @bsoloway

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