Sunday, January 6, 2013

Time for the PM to address "sensitive" questions

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra chooses her exposure to the press very carefully. She rarely gives “exclusive” interviews to the media and when she does, it could be quite revealing, especially on the sensitive issues about her elder brother Thaksin. It’s important that when she does speak to a newspaper on an exclusive basis, she must be certain that probing, follow-up questions would not be posed. She could then make statements that don’t necessarily answer the questions. The absence of such pressure from the interviewer is probably the main reason behind this kind of “scoops.” The “Thaksin question” was duly asked, of course. And the queries were “duly” responded to. You don’t get clear answers, though. You get the typical Yingluck’s responses that may or may not satisfy your curiosity. But those are the kind of answers that has, strangely enough, become the acceptable norm, at least for some reporters covering the PM’s beat. A Thai daily published an exclusive interview with the Premier on Dec 28. At least four questions were directly related to Thaksin. Q: The government is still attached to the name of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister. How would the government “cross over” Thaksin? PM Yingluck: I must say it’s a part of the political problem. It stemmed from a conflict that must be called people are on opposite sides. It is not possible to make people with different opinions to see things the same way in one day. It takes time to adjust the tune. That means mutual sympathy. They must talk to one another. His Majesty the King’s advice on Dec 5, 2012 is what we would like everyone to adhere to… Q: (On the proposed constitutional amendments) Police Lt Col Thaksin Shinawatra has already phoned in (to tell the party and government) what to do in the new year. PM Yingluck: Police Lt Col Thaksin is just one voice, just like the rest of the peple. Today, the red-shirt peple have their own position. The opposition has its own stand. Political parties have their own positions.Then there are the people.There are also academic groups. What I would like to say is that whatever is called representing the most people should be proposed. Q: The name of Thaksin seems to be the crux of the problem. How do you overcome or reduce the pressure from the friction? PM Yingluck: Here, we should talk to one another to clarify the issues. We should clearly specify the people’s interests then we will see the government’s clear intention to make a move that benefits the majority of the people. As I have always said, the movie hasn’t even started to run, we can’t possibly say how it will end. So, let the middle part of the movie be screened first so that the people can watch the movie from the beginning. Then, we can say how it will end. As to the view that the (movie) director hasn’t replaced the characters, the viewers’ feeling remains the same. I only believe in the facts and perhaps the director may be more sympathetic… Q: Are you concerned about the “invisible hand” that had once created trouble for the Thaksin government? PM Yingluck: Today, there are only two hands. Today, we have duties to perform. I believe the people can see that. I am not concerned about anything, be it politics or economics. We believe we have duties to perform; we must do our best. As to the corruption issue, we will have to move ahead vigorously. We will get down to details to block gaps at various levels, by using IT and computer systems to check on them to reduce duplications and to close the corruption gap as much as possible. Anyhow, we are ready to come under inspection. The interviewer let the PM go at that. There were no follow-up questions. Neither was there any attempt to get clarifications on the ambiguous statements. She then gave a television channel another “exclusive.” The questions weren’t all that tough and her answers were slightly clearer. But it was at a year-end press conference that the premier actually said something more specific. She was asked more or less the same question: How would she react to criticism that her government was only serving one person: her brother Thaksin. She probably knew that in the presence of an army of reporters, she probably couldn’t just swing it with the stereotyped statement again. So, she said: “If I did that, then the people wouldn’t vote me back in the next time.” That, at least, was more like it. The standard response to the most sensitive question for the premier has now been upgraded to a new level. Of course, we will need reporters to follow up with further questioning to that reply. The PM has perhaps “graduated” from denying to confront the difficult questions to facing all the sensitive ones. She might have along the way found her own answers to those previously “unanswerable” queries. It’s time for her to be her real self and face up to the challenge.

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