Bad PR for the government of Thailand: The government of Thailand appears to be getting increasingly desperate these days, and their oppressive tactics are likely to backfire.
Consider the events of this week:
On Monday they arrested Sonthiyan Chuenruthainaitham, one of the leaders of the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protest leaders, while he was eating alone in a shopping mall. He was charged with violating the emergency decree – but it was questionable as to whether the emergency decree really needed to be declared in the first place.
Then on Thursday the Criminal Court ordered Mr Sonthiyan released by Feb 17, rejecting a police request to detain him for another seven days.
The government’s Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO), rather than accept defeat, announced it would charge him with treason and attempt to keep him in detention by asking the court every 12 days for another extension under the treason charge. This move was bad PR for the government.
Then on Wednesday the government announced it had compiled a list of so-called “financial backers” of the PDRC, and someone leaked a partial list to the media.
The CMPO threatened to freeze the bank accounts of those on the list – which made the government look like a bully, and those on the list as victims.
Even worse was the caretaker Labor Minister’s hysterical statement: “I curse businesses or anyone who supports the PDRC to oust the government”. He also denounced those who boycotted the Feb 2 election as “shameless”.
This government really needs to hire a PR person to keep its officials from making ridiculous statements to the media. They are quickly losing points in the battle for the hearts and minds of the people, especially in Bangkok.
Boonchai Chokwatana, the chief executive of Saha Pathanapibul Plc, Thailand’s leading consumer goods producer, was on the leaked list and immediately slammed the government, saying his company had done nothing wrong and that the government had blindly put the company’s name on the list just because protesters choose to buy their products.
He insisted the company has no interest in politics and does not support any political side. He also predicted the government’s tactics are likely to turn people against them. He’s right.
The government had already dragged executives of the Dusit Thani Hotel and Siam Intercontinental Hotel in for questioning, both of whom insisted they had provided no assistance to the PDRC or its leader Suthep Thaugsuban.
The Thai Chamber of Commerce called in the media on Thursday and publicly urged the government to stop revealing the names on its list, especially since it is questionable whether the business listed are guilty of anything at all, and have had no chance to defend themselves. It was yet another PR nightmare for the government.
Then on Friday the government had riot police seize one of the anti-government protest sites and threatened to seize another but were blocked by unarmed protesters who sat in the street, many of whom were women. This kind of thing never looks good in the media, and again makes the government look like a bully and the protesters victims.
But the biggest problem for the government, and one that may eventually lead to its downfall, is the rice-scheme nightmare.
Thai farmers, who form the backbone of the ruling Pheu Thai Party’s support, are beginning to sue the government over long-overdue payments under the programme, which is also under investigation for irregularities.
Farmers began coming to Bangkok last week to protest and demand payment, and stormed out of a meeting with the government on Monday when officials could not give them an answer on when they would be paid.
A third farmer committed suicide the same day, which certainly doesn’t help the government’s PR battle.
On Thursday the first group of 50 farmers sued the government, and more lawsuits are coming soon, both civil and criminal.
The government owes about 130 billion baht (US$4 billion) to over one million farmers nationwide under the rice-scheme programme.
Formal corruption charges have already been brought against 15 officials in government to government rice deals, and in January the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) launched an inquiry into caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s role in the rice-pledging scheme.
On Tuesday the NACC announced its inquiry panel is expected to bring formal charges against Ms Yingluck later this month, where she could face dereliction of duty charges if there is enough evidence.
If the main NACC panel decides to indict her and bring the case to court, the PM would be required to step down from all official duties.
Having survived months of anti-government protests by her opponents, the prime minister may in the end be ousted over the rice-scheme scandal involving her own supporters.