From academia to voice of the govt

From academia to voice of the govt

Narumon Pinyosinwat was a leftfield pick for head spokesperson but despite her critics, she says her analytical, non-argumentative style is what the prime minister wants

Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat speaks to reporters at Government House after the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Somchai Poomlard
Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat speaks to reporters at Government House after the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Somchai Poomlard

Compared with past government spokespeople, Narumon Pinyosinwat admits she is not a "fighter" eager to rebut all verbal attacks on the government.

The former lecturer and professor at the National Institute of Development Administration, or Nida, said she has a clearly defined role as the mouthpiece of the government.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha wants a spokesman who can help him drive "new politics" which avoids dialogues that will provoke and prolong political quarrels, she said.

She may have gained the trust of Gen Prayut and the cabinet to be appointed to the post on July 30, but in view of some critics, Ms Narumon has been too passive in defending the government from a range of attacks, including dissatisfaction with the state's performance and its handling of fake news.

After more than six months in the role, Ms Narumon remains perpetually on the back foot and unable to bend the political narrative to the government's will, observers said.

"I have to keep my work in line with our strategy," she told the Bangkok Post.

"The prime minister doesn't want a spokesperson to respond to every issue."

This non-provocative stance is a result of the premier's five years in power as the leader of now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) when there were no opposition MPs to hold him to account or drag the regime into arguments, she said.

The Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) shares a similar stance, as it does not want to see fresh political conflict reminiscent of past turmoils, which is blamed for causing two coups over the past 14 years.

Gen Prayut prefers to allow his government's MPs to settle issues that are raised so he is free to focus on more important jobs, Ms Narumon said.

"But if certain criticisms are levelled towards the prime minister, we will counter them, albeit without using harsh words," she said.

In her view, winning a war of words is less important than giving people unexciting but credible information.

The 46-year-old credits her methodical approach in the role to her years of studying and teaching at universities, where logical arguments took precedence over emotional reactions.

Ms Narumon earned her Bachelor's degree in applied statistics from Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy, before opting to specialise, during her post-graduate study, in applied mathematics at Georgia State University and applied economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

To round off her studies, Ms Narumon earned a doctorate degree in finance, also from the University of Pennsylvania.

Her introduction to the political arena came in early 2017, when she was accepted as an election candidate of the PPRP. After the March 24 general election last year, she became a party-list MP before resigning from the post to become the government spokeswoman.

"Nobody had told me before [the election] I might eventually become the [government] spokeswoman," Ms Narumon said.

In fact, her first job with the party appeared to be more academic than political. She helped party heavyweight Suvit Maesincee, now Minister of Higher Education, Science Research and Innovation, plan the party's election campaign.

"But because I didn't come from a political family and had no political background, I helped the party analyse data," Ms Narumon said.

However, when she was selected as the spokeswoman, Ms Narumon did not ask why she had been chosen ahead of other more experienced politicians. "I didn't raise that question because I believed the government already had certain characteristics in mind for its spokeswoman."

Ms Narumon says she felt ready to shape and adjust the role in accordance with the government's policies.

But not everyone has been satisfied with her work and there were reportedly moves behind the scenes last month to appoint a new spokeswoman.

However, with support from the prime minister, Ms Narumon says she is determined to carry on in the role. She also denied rumours of disagreements with her deputies from other coalition parties.

"We talk to each other about every issue," Ms Narumon insisted.

The spokeswoman said she and her deputies had a cordial relationship and her team was happy with the division of time in their roles between towing the government line and trumpeting the achievement of their own parties. "Each of them wants to tell people what their parties have done," she said. "I try to make sure they get the time [to talk about their parties] that they expect."

Asked how her team plans to address the growing problem of so-called fake news, Ms Narumon said it is part of her mission to give people the correct information while agencies like Technology Crime Suppression Division and the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society also work together to solve the problem.

As a spokeswoman, it is her duty to help stop this crime, but it doesn't mean she has to deny every single piece of misinformation. "We don't have enough resources to respond to every fake news on Facebook," she said with a chuckle.


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