PM coy on political future, cultivates media

PM coy on political future, cultivates media

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha brandishes Wednesday's <i>Bangkok Post</i> at a special lunch he threw for the press as he insists for the second time in a week that he and the junta have always given the press the freedom to report. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha brandishes Wednesday's Bangkok Post at a special lunch he threw for the press as he insists for the second time in a week that he and the junta have always given the press the freedom to report. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha says he is non-committal on whether he will return as an non-elected outsider prime minister after the general election.

He also spent a long time Thursday defending his regime's media policies, insisting he has never limited media freedom and has no privileges which allow the government to be spared from scrutiny. 

But he insisted again his core belief that the press and public must unite to maintain the country's stability and security and that it was important for all to proceed with reforms and move the country forward.

This view has been widely criticised by media workers and others who view the proper role of the press to be watchdog and critic of government.

As for speculation he will try to return as prime minister after the election, Gen Prayut told reporters he has had to avoid speaking clearly on the issue as this would only "impose constraints" on him.

"This is because we don't know what the future will hold. But being an outsider prime minister is also legal, isn't it. The constitution opens the way to preventing future coups. From now on, there will be no more coups," Gen Prayut said.

"Let political parties nominate their candidates first. If they cannot choose, then an outsider must be brought in. Today, nobody nominates me and I don't know if I will accept it," the prime minister said.

The only way Gen Prayut could resume his premiership after the next general election is if he is chosen as an "outsider" prime minister by parliament after the polls.

If MPs fail to select a new prime minister from candidates nominated by party lists, a provisional clause under Section 272 of the constitution would trigger the alternative route. In such a situation, a joint parliamentary session would be held to pave the way to nominate a non-MP as the new premier.

Meanwhile, politicians from the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties welcomed Gen Prayut's remark that he is now a politician.

On Wednesday, Gen Prayut declared openly for the first time that he is no longer a soldier and is now a politician, though he said he felt compelled to become premier out of a sense of responsibility.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said Thursday that it was good for Gen Prayut to distinguish his military role from that of the prime minister clearly.

From now on, Gen Prayut should set a good example as a politician by paying heed to public views, subjecting himself to scrutiny, and accepting different opinions, Mr Abhisit said.

Noppadon Pattama, former foreign minister and a key figure in the Pheu Thai Party, said Gen Prayut's remark shows he has admitted the truth and there is now no need for the prime minister to act "unnaturally".

Commenting on media rights, Gen Prayut said: "As you want to uphold rights and freedoms, I want to ask where you had your rights and freedoms limited. I have never restricted you.

"Some issues angered me, but I have never barred you from doing anything," he said.

He insisted his administration does not only have military men, but also civilians who work together, and the government took power due to extraordinary circumstances.

"You must look at where the problems lie. Which ones have been improved and which ones have worsened. If you say one has worsened, you should point it out. If one improves, say where it is better and help magnify it," Gen Prayut said.

According to the premier, he has a sound understanding of the media's role and always respect its rights and freedoms.

"No matter who was critical, I never punished them.

"This is the difference between my government and those in countries in a similar situation," said Gen Prayut.

He said the media these days presents little substantive content, but rather focuses on gossip, elements from social media and criticism, which could trigger chaos.

The premier insisted he is not the media's enemy, adding he even told government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd to stay calm and friendly with the media.

He said he reads the papers every day and singles out important content by using a pen to circle parts on each page, adding all media is a mixed bag.

Gen Prayut said the media always brings up irregularities surrounding a government project, which causes its substance to be less important, and that the media should treat the two matters equally.

"As for allegations the government has the privilege of being exempt from accountability, have I smashed down any independent bodies? Are they all still in place?" Gen Prayut asked.

He said people still lodge petitions against the government but when agencies reply in legal terms critics say these bodies are on the same page as the government.

Responding to talk that he would be unable to live in the country after relinquishing the premiership, Gen Prayut asked: "Did I break any laws? Anyone who would come to kill me, just give it a go...."

He said the media should not magnify such talk and refrain from backing those keen to destroy the country's reputation.


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