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Prayut urged to join PM debates, but EC yet to rule on legality 

Feb 25. 2019
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AMID UNCERTAINTY over premier General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s participation in prime ministerial debates, a political scientist yesterday urged the junta leader as well as all PM candidates to take part in the exercise in order to help voters decide. 

The government and the party with which Prayut is affiliated, Phalang Pracharat, yesterday remained unsure whether it would be appropriate or even lawful for Prayut, who is also the head of the ruling junta and government, to participate in the debates as part of the election campaign. 

Political scientist Attasit Pankaew, however, urged the PM to bite the bullet so that voters could get information necessary for them to make up their minds.

Attasit said that in the upcoming election on March 24, voters will be casting one ballot to make three choices – the constituency candidate, the party and the PM candidate. Hence, it was important that they be as well informed as possible about relevant issues, he said. 

The government and Phalang Pracharat Party right now are reluctant to let Prayut take part in the anticipated debates, arguing that as the PM, the general was a state servant and the law demanded that that they remained non-partisan in politics. 

Attasit, however, saw no harm in this, arguing: “So long as the debates focus on the vision of the leader and not politics, everything should be fine.”

Phalang Pracharat has already sent a query to the Election Commission (EC) about whether Prayut can take part in the debates.

EC to look into PM’s participation

EC president Ittiporn Boonpracong said yesterday the commission had yet to receive the query. He suggested that all prime ministerial candidates could participate on the debate stage provided by the commission.

Regarding other activities, such as debates hosted by television programmes or speeches at election rallies, the EC president said the agency would look into the matter and give a clarification later.

Meanwhile, Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam, who is in charge of the government’s legal affairs, yesterday admitted that Prayut’s status in government might pose some dilemmas.

“The law states that public servants must be politically neutral. This means they cannot tilt towards any party,” Wissanu said. “So, if [Prayut] joins the debate and focuses only on his policies, it should be acceptable.”

Referring to the government’s populist scheme, which had the same keyword as the party Phalang Pracharat, Wissanu said Prayut could mention “Pracharat” but naming the party could be dangerous. This is despite Prayut being the party’s sole PM candidate. However, Wissanu expected all issues to be resolved once the EC makes a ruling on whether Prayut could take part in the debates. Political debates are being held by many television channels as the country counts down to the March 24 election. 

Prime ministerial candidates as well as politicians are often seen on TV shows, projecting their vision for the country. Prayut, however, has been missing from the scene. Known to be quick-tempered and seen as lacking public-speaking skills, the junta leader has frequently been challenged by other contenders to join one of the sessions.

Democrat deputy leader Ongart Klampaiboon and Pro-Shinawatra party Pheu Chart’s core leader Jatuporn Phromphan, for instance, have called on Prayut to join the debates.

Both took a dig at Prayut, saying the junta chief had enjoyed monologues for the past five years and now the time had come for him to join a dialogue with other politicians.

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