Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin is no stranger to verbal gaffes, which may hurt the feelings of Thais or, worse, inflict political damage. His latest "slip of the tongue" at a meeting of the Pheu Thai Party's executive and MPs over special favours for police promotions is a case in point which could also expose him to legal action.
With little more than 60 days in the office, his habit of making thoughtless remarks has caused widespread concern. A few examples of his careless talk include an informal meeting with a group of Thai students in the United States during his attendance at the Apec Summit in San Francisco in mid-November.
One of the students asked him for advice on how to be successful. He responded by saying that he taught his children that they must start by being a khee ka -- a derogative term for a low-ranking underling, doing all the odd jobs and learning from others before they could become a boss. While his advice is useful, his choice of words is not.
Another example came at a recent meeting with students of the National Defence College. PM Srettha said the students are a privileged class of people who constitute just 1% of the population and should make use of their expertise and resources for the benefit of others. Apparently, his remarks, broadcast nationwide, were not music to the ears of the 1% group.
Shortly after the Hamas attacks in Gaza in early October, the prime minister did it again. This time, he posted on social media expressing condolences to the Israeli government and condemning Hamas immediately.
His impromptu remark caused concern in the Foreign Ministry and among many Thais that Thailand should not take sides in such a complex issue as the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The Foreign Ministry has been walking a tightrope by not condemning either side in the conflict, although it has called for the release of all hostages and a cessation of the violence.
The latest bombshell came last week, this time at the Pheu Thai Party meeting. PM Srettha was quoted telling party members that: "New police superintendents: I am sure there are more people in this room who are disappointed than those who are satisfied because there were so many requests for positions. But quite a few people are satisfied."
What the prime minister said could be summed up as follows: There were so many requests for police promotions for superintendent from the audience that some could be met, but others were not. That amounts to an admission that he had received many requests for special favours from Pheu Thai Party members, and he managed to fulfil some but not all of them.
It remains a mystery why the prime minister raised the issue in such an impromptu manner at the meeting because it is not the sort of thing which should be raised publicly because it might be leaked to the media -- which it duly was.
Thai Liberal Party leader Pol Gen Sereepisuth Temeeyaves, a former national police chief, said the prime minister's slip amounts to an incriminating admission that can be used against him in legal proceedings.
Serial petitioner Srisuwan Janya submitted a petition to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, accusing the prime minister of interfering in police promotions in violation of Section 186 of the constitution and political ethics.
Democrat spokesman Ramet Rattanachaweng reminded Mr Srettha of the pledge he made on Sept 8 that, under his administration, there will be no "selling of positions" in government services.
The opposition Move Forward Party is likely to file a question in parliament when it reconvenes to probe the prime minister about his alleged interference in police promotions.
Political interference in the annual police reshuffle has been a practice under all governments. In many cases, police who want to be promoted to key positions, such as a superintendent's post, must pay a hefty sum of up to seven digits to get promoted to lucrative posts such as those in districts where many entertainment venues are located.
All prime ministers, past and present, are aware of this malpractice, but not everyone was directly involved. More importantly, as far as I can recall, none ever admitted in public to what goes on the way Prime Minister Srettha did, which has put him in a tight spot.
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is also known for his verbal blunders. For instance, he once called the southern insurgents jone krajok (lousy bandits), who responded by stepping up attacks on government forces and outposts to prove their prowess and military capability.
He once described Thai Airways International as huai taek (rotten, as in poor quality) at a meeting with Bangkok Post reporters during a visit to the newspaper's office. However, he later denied making such an insulting remark.
How PM Srettha's latest verbal gaffe will transpire has yet to be seen. But the incident clearly shows that he is inclined to speak before thinking and that his loose tongue could do damage to his premiership and the country.
He needs someone close to him -- if not a professional communications coach, then a PR flak or spokesman -- to warn him when he opens his mouth.