PM must learn to turn other cheek

PM must learn to turn other cheek

After six years in office and having earned the unenviable reputation of being an "angry pot" for his occasionally unprovoked outbursts at Government House reporters, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha might have thought it was about time for him to change tack and reach out to media outlets that he didn't appear to admire.

Last week, the prime minister, accompanied by a small team of aides, visited several print media offices, including the Bangkok Post, Post Today, Thai Rath, Daily News, Naew Na and the Matichon Group among others.

The media tour was said to be a part of the "new normal" way of working where the prime minister engages with society and exchanges opinions on how to move Thailand forward and, under the present circumstances in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and economic meltdown, how to reboot the sputtering economy while keeping the country safe from a second wave of coronavirus.

The media is not high on the list of people that the prime minister had planned to meet. Hence, it remains to be seen whether any suggestions made by media executives or senior reporters during their meetings are taken up or not.

For the media, the prime minister's "new normal" approach is nothing new. Former prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and Abhisit Vejjajiva did it. Still, it is a welcome move albeit belated.

For Prime Minister Prayut has his back against the wall. Apart from the unprecedented economic challenges, he is under pressure from MPs in the ruling Palang Pracharath Party to reshuffle his cabinet, with three proteges of Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak -- namely Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana, Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong and Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovations Minister Suvit Maesincee -- being kicked out of the cabinet.

But the problem with the party is that none of the "wannabes" who would replace those being ousted are qualified enough to replace the three technocrats-turned-politicians who were inducted into politics by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid to form the economic team to help Prime Minister Prayut.

They have big ambitions, but no clue about how to manage the economic crisis. And if they really want the economic ministerial posts, they must, at least, show us their vision -- if they have any -- of how they think the economy can be saved.

Failing that, they should stick to their present jobs and do their best for those already in the cabinet.

And for those who are not yet in the cabinet but overwhelmed with raw ambition, please look in the mirror and ask yourself "Am I qualified?"

This is no time for amateurs or for pure ambition. That is why the prime minister has sought help from professionals in various fields -- many of whom are willing to offer advice, but reluctant to join the cabinet for fear of the gutter politics that they will be dragged into.

That is also the prime minister's dilemma in case he is forced to choose between sparing Dr Somkid and his team or picking a new team with the inclusion of some ambitious MPs.

As head of the government for the past six years, the prime minister may now feel he is having to bear the burden of the nation on his shoulders alone.

He might also fear taking all the blame if he fails to deliver, though in reality he is surrounded by both friends and foes.

In my opinion, the prime minister now needs friends and their moral support. That is why he is reaching out to the printed media that he used to despise for their criticism.

In a desperate moment like this, he needs the help of the country's best brains and moral support from all sectors of society to guide the country through the crisis and move forward.

Reaching out to the media is not enough in my opinion.

He should reach out to those whom he deems as enemies too -- that is the opposition, namely the Pheu Thai and the Kao Klai parties, the way he did with the media.

It may be a difficult decision. But given the circumstances, and in the interests of forging unity, the prime minister must show his leadership must mobilise all resources he has available, including advice from the opposition, to help the country confront the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis.

This is an opportunity for reconciliation -- or at least, a ceasefire to put behind us past animosities and work together as one collective force.

Gen Prayut is known for having a sensitive hide, or to put it simply, does not suffer criticism gladly.

Yet at the present time facing the pressures that he does, "turning the other cheek", as taught by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount, should serve as good advice for the prime minister to follow.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.


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