Regime sparks #DelayMyAss Twitter storm

Regime sparks #DelayMyAss Twitter storm

It looks like another election delay will not benefit anyone, least of all Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, who comes across as a most ineffectual leader, even among high-school students.

That the strongly worded hashtag #LeunMaeMuengSi or #DelayMyAss shot up to the top trenders on Twitter immediately after news of yet another poll delay indicated a yearning to vote among the population that could take the military regime by surprise.

The outrage is a clear reflection of the government's declining popularity, as it does not bode well for the regime when even high-school students are lambasting its erratic moves.

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

Earlier, the youngsters were told their university enrolment exams would be brought forward to pave the way for the general election -- thus giving them less time to cram -- despite Gen Prayut repeatedly stating that the provisional Feb 24 election date would not be changed.

The PM tried to pacify the annoyed students, asking them on Twitter via his handle @prayutofficial to be patient and wait for the Election Commission (EC) to set a new date so that their examinations could be postponed accordingly.

He would be shocked by their responses. One asked why a Mathayom 6 student like her has to be governed by such irresponsible adults. Another said if the government cannot manage to organise an election, it should step down and let more a capable party run the country.

One parent said he had already booked an overseas trip with his kids on Feb 24. If the exams are postponed again, he would have to cancel everything. He asked why the government was unable to keep to its word and stick to a clear date. Perhaps the regime is afraid of losing the election, he wondered.

Another said the key issue is trustworthiness. If the regime is not able to keep its word, the person asked, how could it possibly expect to win the confidence of foreign investors, let alone voters?

The government probably did not expect such harshly worded responses, but its attempt to postpone the poll have proven so unpopular that the EC is seen as trying to distance itself from the issue.

After the EC met with Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who briefed the commission about the King's coronation ceremonies due to take place from May 4-6, the agency issued a statement saying it was fully prepared to hold the election once the royal decree on MP elections has been published in the Royal Gazette.

In trying to tinker with the poll date, the military regime seems to have underestimated the public's frustration. PM Prayut has ruled for four years, with an iron fist in several areas, including freedom of speech, but his performance has been less than spectacular.

He may well have taken care of the government's day-to-day business, but he has failed completely on big issues. There has been neither reform nor reconciliation. His tough talk on corruption reeks of hypocrisy given that he turned a blind eye to the undeclared luxury watches of Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwon, the junta's No.2 man, who is now derided in foreign media outlets like Britain's Daily Mail as the "Rolex General".

He is quick to praise his own government while blaming everyone else. Then there is his temper. The PM's tendency to boil over at the mere mention of anything he disapproves of has become one of his trademark weaknesses, and it could prove fatal when contrasted with other candidates on the campaign trail.

The lacklustre economy and bearish stock market are also not helping. In short, the government might not have realised that, unless it has done exceptionally well, four years is about enough time for people to get bored and want change. The promise of a general election was thus a safety valve, a breather that helped relieve the public's growing dissatisfaction with the regime.

Whether done out of necessity or ignorance, the regime has sought to delay the poll, or safety valve. The result, obviously, is increased pressure as people are being made to wait long for the country to return to democracy.

The possibility of another poll delay has fed rumours the government is buying time so it can come up with more popularity-boosting measures so Gen Prayut can enjoy a second term in power.

However, all things considered, the regime is unlikely to win hearts by delay things further. Whatever plan it has to catapult Gen Prayut to the premiership must have been hatched beforehand. It could be argued that his popularity may fall further over time.

It seems unreasonable for the government to forgo the election as well, as it needs to don this democratic cloak as much as anyone. But for some reason, the poll must be postponed. And despite pleas for understanding, PM Gen Prayut is carrying the cost.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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