By The Nation
With the military junta under pressure to hold elections sooner rather than later, the six silly questions that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has posed to gauge public opinion can only be interpreted as a desperate bid to justify his tenacious clinging to power.
Politicians, critics and activists have slammed General Prayut for using such a shameless trick to score popularity points. The six “questions” aren’t really questions at all. They are roundabout statements of Prayut’s personal perceptions regarding the current political situation. They cast professional politicians in an unfair light, hardly an astute move given that Prayut is now a politician himself – and one who has never stood for election.
A broad swathe of people agrees that Prayut has posed his questions with his own answers in mind, seeking to shape public opinion rather than test it, in an effort to bolster support for himself or any proxies he might field in the coming election. The best example of this was asking whether the junta has the right to support a political party in the polls, a curious notion given the laws the junta imposed to strangle support for parties and individual politicians. So the answer was clear enough: The law prevents Prayut as premier and the junta from doing so. Is the general asking for the public’s permission to violate the law he instated?
Evidently aware that his survey might draw derision, Prayut avoided posing the questions on the mainstream or social media. The answers have to come back through channels tightly controlled by the Interior Ministry. It’s being touted as something of a national event, with citizens encouraged to file their responses at the ministry’s Damrongdhamma complaint centres throughout the country.
Prayut seems to favour the approach. At the end of May, amid coup-anniversary calls for an election, he posed four similar questions about elections, politics and politicians’ behaviour. To date there have been 1.1 million responses, but the government has yet to share the gist of them with the public. We don’t know what the junta is doing with the information gleaned. The replies given couldn’t have been all that bad, of course. It’s hard to imagine anyone sharing a candidly negative opinion of junta rule with the military. Thus, Prayut was able to put more than a million supporters in his pocket, even if they’re not particularly fond of him. The Army owns their opinions now.
General Prayut has in place everything he needs to perpetuate his rule. The military, law, state organs such as the non-elected Senate, and political allies among the elite have all been aligned since the 2014 coup to support him. So why does he go through the motions of scenting out public opinion? Even with a formidable support mechanism in place, Prayut cannot feel overly secure, given the junta’s poor economic performance and his own lagging popularity in opinion polls.
The endless questions won’t help him, though. If it’s popular support he craves, Prayut must demonstrate that he is prepared to march the troops back to the barracks and say goodbye to politics. Thailand has become far too educated, too sophisticated and too globally
oriented for men in uniform to run the show. Let’s move on.