Flak builds for PM over poll questions

Flak builds for PM over poll questions

Govt says intent is to gather public opinion

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha commandeers the TV Pool to speak to the nation at least once a week, and last Friday posed Four Questions on elections which he still promises will be held at an unstated time in the future. (Screen grab via YouTube)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha commandeers the TV Pool to speak to the nation at least once a week, and last Friday posed Four Questions on elections which he still promises will be held at an unstated time in the future. (Screen grab via YouTube)

Academics and civil sector leaders have joined politicians in criticising Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for asking "leading questions" on democracy in what is seen as an attempt to test the waters for another delay in the election roadmap.

Gen Prayut raised four questions in his weekly television programme on Friday, saying he wanted the public's opinions on four issues and their feedback would be used as guidelines for the government's work.

Gen Prayut posed the questions to the public following a blast at Phramongkutklao Hospital last Monday that left 25 people injured.

Gen Prayut earlier said next year's general election could be delayed unless peace is preserved.

The first question asked whether people think the next elected government will ensure good governance.

The second question asked what should be done if there is no such government after the next election.

In the third question, while admitting that elections are an important part of democracy, he asked whether elections that fail to take into account matters relating to the country's future, reforms and national strategy are the right thing.

His fourth question asked if politicians who behave improperly should get a chance to run in elections again. He asked who will deal with them and how, if problems should occur again.

The public can send their views on the issues to the Interior Ministry's Damrongdhama complaints centres in every province, and they will pass on the opinions to him, the prime minister said.

Pitch Pongsawat, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said the prime minister's questions may be a positive sign indicating he is trying to seek fresh information other than what he hears from his advisers.

However, Mr Pitch stressed the principle of good governance must be applied to all governments and the public must be able to scrutinise them.

Good governance involves public participation and giving the people the freedom to express their opinions about national affairs, he said.

Regarding the government's national strategy, Mr Pitch said a strategy made in a top-down fashion is not suited to a democratic society.

A national strategy that lacks public recognition and bargaining means little to the people, he said. Drawing up a strategy must proceed alongside a process to promote public participation, he added.

Adisorn Naowanont, dean of the Graduate school of Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University, said he did not think any government -- elected or unelected -- can ensure 100% good governance.

But at least, the next government will be elected by the people and most importantly, it will be subject to scrutiny under a checks and balances system, Mr Adisorn said.

Scrutiny mechanisms should be allowed to take their course and the military should not stage a coup again, he added.

National Human Rights Commission commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit said Sunday she was surprised when she heard the four questions, saying what she understood from them is the prime minister wants to prolong his power.

"The questions he asked are so ridiculous. I think it's enough for this government which has stayed in power for more than three years. The government's reforms have still failed to address the grievances of Thais, to improve the image of the police, to bring about peace to the deep South or call for reconciliation among political conflict groups.

"So I want the prime minister to keep his promise to return democracy to the Thai people by following the government's roadmap to the election next year," Ms Angkhana said.

She said elections are the civil right of the people to express what they want and who they choose to lead them, so it is time for him to return that right to all Thais.

The international community is also keeping an eye on the political situation in Thailand and such questions from the prime minister could be viewed as a setback for democracy, she said.

"Now the country has a new charter and soon we will have organic laws to pave the way for the election next year. So it is not right for the prime minister to be asking such leading questions," Ms Angkhana said.

In defence of the prime minister, government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Gen Prayut's questions were intended to allow the people to have their say in the country's future.

"The prime minister wanted the people to take part in deciding the direction the country should take. The opinions gained will be used for the benefit of the country," Lt Sansern said.

"We have only heard opinions from politicians, academics or poll results collected from randomly chosen samples. This is another way to gather people's opinions and find out what they really want and need," Lt Gen Sansern said.

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