PM should lend an ear
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PM should lend an ear

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha went travelling on Monday, to Rayong province. He visited a fruit processing centre, was photographed with local people, and spoke to them instead of giving them an attentive ear. This is a key mistake also made by ministers and officials.

Gen Prayut was not elected and he has unique powers he can wield when he feels it is necessary. Such a position and the ensuing responsibility requires even more of the need for him to hear feedback on the ground.

The former army chief effectively changed careers on May 22, 2014 when he launched the coup that put the army back in command of the national apparatus.

Gen Prayut went from being an army officer to a politician. There is a distinctly unsubtle difference between being an army general - or a business leader or a civil servant or a financial leader - and being in the top echelons of the government.

Prime Minister Prayut, both by choice and circumstance, used to wear a beret. Now he wears many hats.

He is head of government, not entirely different from being commander of the Royal Thai Army. He is the country's chief administrator, a senior financial officer, the top law enforcement official. It appears he still wears the hat of a politician awkwardly.

Once again in Rayong he pulled out the post-coup remarks that ask for understanding while he performs his difficult task. He never asked what the Rayong agriculture workers thought about it all.

This is the politician's touch that the prime minister has yet to master. Of course it is important the nation learn about his policy from the source. He uses his weekly TV programme to explain his projects to the country. He gets brickbats because it lasts too long. Admittedly, there would be loud complaints if he refused to explain his views and policy directions at all.

In Rayong, he was considerate, friendly and non-threatening. He spoke of how farmers' work preparing Thai fruit for the market was important, including for international trade. And he could not resist what has become his standard speech on such occasions. He asked everyone to be tolerant, not to spread any divisive ideas or "stir up hatred towards the government".

The PM sincerely believes that since he is acting righteously he must be treated accordingly. This is where he shows he still has not accepted the hugely important political side of the job. To be effective, the nation's leader must not simply get out into the country and address groups duly arranged by aides to await his arrival; he should seek sincere opinions to improve state performance.

Every Thai is a constituent of Gen Prayut, and has hopes and ideas about how to improve the country. The prime minister certainly does not have the time to listen to them all. But in an intimate gathering like the one in Rayong on Monday, he can easily invite local people to speak up and say what they think.

The leader of every country denies he surrounds himself with "yes men" and flatterers but they always are there. Informal, up-country settings with groups of local people make it much more likely the prime minister will get true and valuable reactions.

Prime Minister Prayut's next upcountry trips will serve his administration more if he stops to listen to local opinions when he gets a chance.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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