By KAS CHANWANPEN
AMID CONCERNS that intimidation of academics is growing, Prime Minister and junta chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha claimed yesterday that his government was not behind the self-censorship by a university that refused to publish an opinion poll.
Meanwhile, major polling institutes Suan Dusit and Bangkok Poll admitted yesterday that the ongoing political troubles had affected how they had conducted their surveys in the years since the 2014 coup.
The admissions followed a decision by National Institute of Development Administration (Nida) poll director Arnond Sakworawich to step down in protest after the suppression of a survey concerning Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s possession of luxurious watches.
The poll results were suspended by the Nida director, Pradit Wanarat, on the grounds that they could have influenced public opinion over the issue as the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) had not completed its inquiry into the matter.
Meanwhile, the prominent historian and former rector of Thammasat University, Charnvit Kasetsiri, and Thammasat’s dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology Anusorn Unno have been summoned to appear before police tomorrow to acknowledge charges against them.
Anusorn reportedly faces charges related to the “We Walk” protest campaign and Charnvit for allegedly circulating false reports on Facebook. They could face tough penalties including jail terms if found guilty on their respective charges.
Academic and rights advocate Chamnan Chanruang said there had been a decline in academic freedom in Thailand and emphasised that “courage” was intrinsic to the prosperity of academia.
Questions have been raised as to whether the coup-installed regime was behind the move at Nida, given that Pradit was also a member of the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly.
Prayut denied any role in the decision.
“How does [Anond’s resignation] have anything to do with me? I just saw the news on social media, too. And he said he hadn’t been forced or anything. People can say whatever they want and the media can just amplify that so the country won’t be in peace,” he told reporters yesterday.
Pradit, meanwhile, insisted he had not infringed on academic freedom or ordered any change to the poll results, but he added that he would always ask to see poll results before publishing them.
Regarding the Prawit watch scandal poll, Pradit said the results had been withheld because they would be “suggestive” while the case had not been finalised.
Suan Dusit poll head Nattapon Yamchim admitted that because of the long period of political conflict, his office had to be extra careful when conducting political surveys. If not, the polls could generate negative effects or bring about more conflict, he added. The organisation tried to be straightforward in its work, he said, adding that the surveys were always neutral and not meant to lead public opinion.
Regarding the Nida incident, Nattapon said he believed it was an issue of scrutiny within the organisation and Pradit could have believed the results would be exploited, leading to the ban.
The head of Bangkok Poll, Isaree Praditteera, said she did not believe the military government had interfered in Nida’s poll. Bangkok Poll had reflected a continuous decline in the popularity of the junta, yet it had not been harassed once, she said. The suspension of survey results could have been due to Nida’s policy, she added.
Meanwhile, scholar and rights advocate Chamnan said the Nida rector’s explanation that the results could have had some influence on the watch case currently handled by the NACC was unjustifiable.
Pradit may have absolute power to withhold the survey results, but it should be exercised only on the grounds that there were unreliable due to factors such as bad methodology, he said.
Chamnan added that contempt of court was not an issue, as the case was not before a court.