Good advice, partly taken
Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was last involved formally in politics just over 30 years ago. Last week, he climbed back into the ring for just a few moments. That was long enough to give good advice, from experience and from the heart, to the current prime minister. Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has said often that Gen Prem is his mentor. He would be wise, then, to take Gen Prem's advice to heart, because if he ignores it he could be courting danger.
The advice was short and sweet: People with different views are not enemies and should not be treated as foes. And he does know. Gen Prem was prime minister of Thailand for twice as long as Gen Prayut has served, with less than half the disputes. No democrat desires a military leader, but everyone admits Gen Prem earned his title of "statesman". The 98-year-old president of the Privy Council made no attempt to keep political power when he left the prime minister's post to an elected, civilian regime in 1988.
Gen Prayut has placed himself on a different path. He now aims to shed the military power he used to grab and hold power. Unlike Gen Prem, he has no current ambition of becoming an ex-prime minister. He has raised considerable concern with the means and manner he is employing to transit from head of the military regime to head of a civil government. Strong opposition voices are already being heard against this ambition. If he follows Gen Prem's advice, he will take the criticism graciously and deal with it professionally -- not personally.
Just two days before Gen Prem spoke to Gen Prayut, an extremely critical voice from the past was heard. MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, better known as "Mom Oui", appears to bear an animus against the prime minister, dating back to his dismissal as economic chief in 2015. His treatise of "Eight reasons why I do not want Gen Prayut to return as prime minister" is pretty much the sort of attack, from a political foe, that Gen Prem was referring to. Just as his mentor advised, Gen Prayut needs to treat such an attack in a reasoned way. MR Pridiyathorn is opposed to Gen Prayut's politics and organisation. He also is a loyal citizen.
According to the statesman, Gen Prayut must see such people as friends. Different views are natural; harsh language is a given in politics. To his credit, Gen Prayut immediately took heed of Gen Prem's advice. He told a meeting of the armed forces commanders on Friday that when confronting political personalities, they must treat them as friends.
The discouraging part of Gen Prayut's instructions to the supreme commander and the chiefs of the police, army, navy and air force was the prime minister's order to confront people.
Gen Prayut's order on Friday was for soldiers, sailors, airmen and police to "enter all areas and meet the people". Ostensibly, they are to listen to the problems of residents. Of course, the plan reeks of pro-regime electioneering.
Gen Prem does not have advice covering this situation. When he left the premiership, the departure was clean. Prime Minister Prayut, on the other hand, is attempting what too many predecessors of his achieved -- remaining in power while in control of an elected legislature.
It is a positive development that Gen Prayut has taken the experienced word of his mentor. On the other hand, it is disappointing that he is twisting the words and actions of the widely respected Privy Council president. Gen Prayut's continued use of the military for his personal political goals will endear him to few, and indeed to no Thai who wishes democracy for his or her nation.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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