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Why the Thai soccer boys are crawling through fake caves instead of recovering

The 12 Thai soccer players rescued from a cave in July opened an exhibit about their rescue last week, held a Q&A with the press, appeared as guests of honour at a banquet for 10,000 and toured Thailand’s Royal Palace — all over the course of three days.The boys also crawled through a replica of the cave where they spent two weeks huddled together.Story continues below

Thailand initially said the boys would go through a six-month psychological monitoring period, but the government has thrust them back into the spotlight just two months after their ordeal.And experts say the government and the king are eager to capitalize on the feel-good story now, regardless of whether the children are prepared.READ MORE: Here’s how the Thai cave boys became trapped in the first placeLast week’s “United as One” media blitz was sponsored by Thailand’s new monarch, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and the country’s unelected government, a military junta that seized power in 2014 and has yet to declare an election.Thailand expert Kevin Hewiston says the government needs the publicity ahead of an anticipated election that it hopes to win.“This is almost an opportunity that the military junta can’t resist,” said Hewiston, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Contemporary Asia and a retired political science professor.“It does look like this is being manipulated by the military for its own purposes, but also for promoting the current king.”The junta has repeatedly delayed plans to hold an election, and the new king is not nearly as popular as his late father, Hewiston said.“It makes him look good, [and] it makes the junta look good,” Hewiston told Global News from Australia. “This is an opportunity to reinforce a good news story for the junta internationally, which then makes them appear more legitimate within Thailand.”READ MORE: Thai king turns over royal family fortune to himself, will allow assets to be taxedThe junta has also tried to use the cave story to distract from talk of an election, according to Amy L. Freedman, a political science professor at Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asia Institute.“This is a military regime, and any PR that they can use to manufacture something that shows their credibility and their legitimacy, I think they’re going to do,” Freedman told Global News.WATCH BELOW: Thai cave boys talk about miracle rescue after leaving hospital in July

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