Government faces down poll boss drama

Government faces down poll boss drama

Director vows to quit over 'interference'

The head of the Nida Poll, Arnond Sakworawich (inset) resigns after the junta successfully demanded that Nida suppress his survey showing 85% of the public don't believe Gen Prawit's explanation about the watches. (Photos Bangkok Post, Nida.ac.th)
The head of the Nida Poll, Arnond Sakworawich (inset) resigns after the junta successfully demanded that Nida suppress his survey showing 85% of the public don't believe Gen Prawit's explanation about the watches. (Photos Bangkok Post, Nida.ac.th)

The Nida poll director is vowing to quit after his poll relating to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon's luxury watches scandal went unpublished on his boss's orders, sparking criticism of political interference.

Many observers think the government has exerted pressure on the institute which persuaded its rector to step in and forbid the poll from being released.

Social media lit up Sunday with criticism of the government for masterminding the move, forcing its spokesman to deny the claim.

A source said the poll indicates that up to 85% of respondents do not believe Gen Prawit's explanation that his high-price watches were borrowed from friends, an explosive result which threatens to further undermine public confidence in the way the government has handled the scandal.

"Although I support the coup and government, if [I see] something isn't right or just, I don't have to 'lick top boot'," said poll director Arnond Sakworawich in a message posted Sunday on his Facebook account, explaining his decision to resign. He has been in the job just two weeks and worked on three polls in that time.

He was referring to the opinion survey titled "Borrowed luxury watches: twisted or true?" conducted by the poll centre under the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida) which has been frozen by the university's executives.

Mr Arnond said he has to present facts straightforwardly as an academic, and he will never betray that principle or the people. He stressed that a person holding a management post in any academic institution needs to work with devotion and pursue academic freedom, and show ethical and academic courage.

"If I can't maintain these things, there's no reason for me to stay in the office," he said.

He and his team tried to conduct the poll with academic integrity and present information that is as accurate and careful as possible. "But then one of the staff at Nida told me the rector had ordered any political-related poll be reviewed by him and that he ordered a halt to this poll," he said.

"I think he [the rector] is afraid, but I'm not," Mr Arnond said. "I respect him [the rector], as he was my teacher. But academically, I have the right to be myself."

The Nida rector's order came after Nida Poll on Friday issued results of another poll showing that the majority of survey respondents doubt the transparency of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

It shows that 76.3% of respondents think there are "irregularities" in the NCPO led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and in his government itself, while only 16.64% had confidence in its transparency. The other 7.04% declined to answer.

Further, about half of respondents doubted the willingness of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to conduct a genuine investigation into such high-ranking politicians as Gen Prawit, who was caught wearing expensive time pieces he had not declared on his asset list.

The Nida Poll director's announcement he would quit drew criticism and suspicion, particularly in social networks, that the government had interfered in the university's work.

"Even an academic who has announced he supports the coup and the government is not spared," a netizen wrote on her Facebook page.

Gen Prawit earlier told the public that the 25 luxury watches he wore without declaring them to the NACC were borrowed from friends.

Pheu Thai Party legal adviser Ruangkrai Leekijwattana said he suspected influential figures had interfered in the poll's management as they can see the government's popularity is declining, particularly due to the watches scandal.

Phichai Ratnatilaka Na Bhuket, another professor at Nida, posted on his Facebook page that he had received confirmation the poll concerning the watch scandal was halted by the rector. This action had resulted in Mr Arnond's decision to resign.

Government spokesman Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd denied the government had tried to block the poll results, and insisted it was not trying to curb academic freedom.

Mr Arnond's resignation should not be linked to the government and the deputy prime minister's watches, he added.

Meanwhile, Nida president Pradit Wanarat said he is the person accountable for the decision to halt the poll. Since the case of Gen Prawit is still undergoing investigation by the NACC, the poll might influence public opinion.

The rector also stressed that Nida Poll has always tried to uphold academic freedom, adding that once Gen Prawit's case reaches completion, the committee will review the poll again. He would discuss the matter with Mr Arnond today. Nida began conducting polls in 1975.


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