PM's roadshows under fire

PM's roadshows under fire

Analysis: Prayut hits 'campaign trail' by doling out cash while holding back rivals

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, sporting a Phu Thai ethnic shirt, returns an ILY (I Love You) gesture adapted from American Sign Language to local children and residents at Ban Phon village in Kalasin. The premier visited the community yesterday to check on the progress of development projects. Photo by Government House
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, sporting a Phu Thai ethnic shirt, returns an ILY (I Love You) gesture adapted from American Sign Language to local children and residents at Ban Phon village in Kalasin. The premier visited the community yesterday to check on the progress of development projects. Photo by Government House

The prime minister's frequent visits to the provinces with multi-billion-baht budgets to spend while refusing party requests to lift the political activity ban are spurring claims that he is acting with political motives while shutting out potential rivals.

In his latest trip, Gen Prayut Pran-o-cha visited Kalasin yesterday and approved more than 1.7 billion baht for developments covering water tunnels, roads and the purchase of silk looms.

The visit to the northeastern province came five days after he visited Trang where the prime minister ordered work to resume on a flood-water diversion project worth 1.3 billion baht after it had been suspended for several years.

In the southern province, Gen Prayut apologised for losing his temper and directing a furious tirade at a fisherman in Pattani during his first mobile cabinet meeting in the South late last month.

At the mobile cabinet meeting in Songkhla, the Prayut government approved 14 infrastructure development projects worth more than 500 billion baht for 2019-2023. The projects cover road networks, rail transport systems, ports and airports.

On Dec 25-26, another mobile cabinet will be held in Sukhothai where the government is again expected to allocate a multi-billion-baht budget.

Writing on Facebook, Somsak Thepsuthin, a veteran politician in Sukhothai, said the province should get no less than 5 billion baht from the meeting.

While Gen Prayut and his government have continued their provincial trips and throwing money about, the regime still insists the time is not yet ripe for lifting the political activities ban. "Lifting the ban will take place only when the appropriate time has come," Gen Prayut told Kalasin residents yesterday.

He also asked people who came to greet him: "Any of you here want me to lift the ban? They [politicians] keep asking for it but no one here does. Next time don't ask me again about the issue," he said.

Critics say Gen Prayut is acting like a politician on the campaign trail, handing out money to gain popularity while freezing parties' activities.

"His provincial visits should be about listening to the people's problems but what Gen Prayut is doing is simply courting popularity and he is not interested in hearing problems," said Pheu Thai Party heavyweight Chaturon Chaisang.

The prime minister was looking to regain power in the poll but was unlikely to succeed as the government did not take people's problems seriously, he said.

Chusak Sirinil, head of Pheu Thai's legal team, said Gen Prayut was paving the way for a career in politics after the poll but holding back parties' preparations. "His roadshows are paving the way for him to become an unelected premier after the election. It is unfair he is not giving parties a chance to do their job," he said.

Wirat Kulayasiri, the head of the Democrat Party's legal team, said he believed the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) intends to put off the poll.

But Gen Prayut denied the claims, saying his provincial trips are intended to solve people's problems and tell people about the government's policies. "I'm not running a political campaign in coming here," Gen Prayut told Kalasin people yesterday. "But if parties campaign, they should talk like me [on what they will do for the country]," he said.

Gen Prayut called on people to listen carefully to politicians when they campaign. "If they tell you they will raise farm product prices by intervening in the market, it's wrong and will bring about more problems later," he said.

Supachai Jaisamut, deputy-secretary general of the Bhumjaithai Party, voiced concerns about the neutrality of the new Election Commission (EC) members and wondered why the regime was reluctant to remove the ban.

"People are suspicious as to why they don't lift the restrictions and ask if they have some plans which can put parties at a disadvantage," he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam moved to ease parties' concerns about the ban. The organic law on political parties will be amended if needs be to ensure fair play for parties seeking to contest the election, he said. Mr Wissanu said a change may be needed to give parties adequate time to comply with new requirements under the law.

Under the law which came into force in early October, parties are required to improve their membership databases within 90 days and enlist as many 500 members within six months of the law taking effect.

Those that fail to meet these requirements will lose the right to field candidates and receive subsidies from the political party fund. "The organic bill on elections of MPs isn't completed and we don't know when an election will take place. So don't be in too much of a hurry," he said.

Meanwhile, Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, an acting member of the EC, attacked the regime over its tardiness in lifting the ban, saying while the new rules may be good enough, things could turn chaotic due to the rushed time-frame.

He said if the ban was removed after all four election-related organic law take effect, parties would have just two and half months to make preparations.

"We don't mind a military party but the question is if it will be a fair playing field. If state power is used unjustly, I don't think we can count on a peaceful society after the elections," he said.

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