Opinion: Prayut needs a real “conversation” with the people

The decision on Tuesday to impose a nation-wide state of emergency was supposed to be the most drastic action to be taken by the Prayut government in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic that has been ravaging the country.

 

Though Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has yet to spell out what specific dos and don’ts will follow suit, there are no doubts that whatever they are will have a strong impact on the people’s everyday lives.

A curfew is a possibility and hanging out on the streets could be a taboo while travel will most likely be restricted. In summary, the state of emergency means a disruption in everyone’s life.

 

However, when he broke the news to the media at the press conference on Tuesday, Prayut somehow made it sound as if he was announcing just another package of measures to deal with the deadly virus.

It was definitely a missed opportunity for Prayut to communicate with the Thai people in this critical time. There is no question that Thais in general understand the severity of the situation, but in a crisis people need to hear directly from their leader as to what they are up against and what is being done to confront it.

 

Medical authorities have done a commendable job in their daily updating on the pandemic and in reminding the public of their obligation to follow guidelines and directives to help stop the chain of transmission. But it’s only the political leadership that can rally the people to face the challenge.

 

Unfortunately, from the outset, the Prayut government has done a poor job in its communication with the people. Cabinet members gave out contradictory information while the prime minister himself appeared adrift in his handling of the situation. It was not until after he sat down with a group of the country’s top medical experts and listened to their frank evaluation of the situation did he start to put his government’s house in order.

 

A state of emergency is something that many see as inevitable as the “stay at home” and other social distancing directives continue to be flouted and as the country sees an exponential rise in new infection cases.

The decision to impose the state of emergency should have provided Prime Minister Prayut with a perfect opportunity to have a frank “conversation” with the people about the crisis the country is facing. Of course, he would need to deliver bad news and at the same time offer hope.

 

Bad news is necessary in order for the people to truly appreciate the gravity of the situation – how the rise in the number of infection cases is overloading the health care system and how more people are going die. And in time like this, the bad news needs to come directly from the person who is supposed to be in charge.

And no one but the country’s top leader can turn bad news into a rallying point for the people who are in a state of fear and panic.

 

A government doesn’t get to declaring a state of emergency everyday. Once it does, however, it needs to be communicated clearly as to how it will affect people’s lives and how it will eventually help in the struggle against the deadly virus. More importantly, the government – specifically its top leader – needs to drive home “we are all in this together” message. In short, in time of crisis people need to have a leader who can inspire.

 

But that didn’t happen on Tuesday. Prayut just could not get away from his usual mumbling style of talking. He simply glossed over the most critical decision of his administration to impose a state of emergency as if it was just another announcement. And if people were looking for inspiration, they must be very disappointed.

 

Prayut didn’t even bother to take questions from reporters. It was only while he was walking away from the podium and in response to a question shouted by a reporter did Prayut say the state of emergency would be in force only for a month.

And it didn’t help that Prayut didn’t remove his over-sized face mask while talking. His voice was muffled and was void of authority that is needed in delivering such important message.

 

Of course, it’s understandable that the prime minister wanted to set an example in protecting himself with a mask, but there are certainly times that facial expressions of the leader are needed to reflect his leadership.

 

Medical experts have been talking about the “golden period” for Thailand to turn the tide of the pandemic. Advisors of Prime Minister Prayut should also be talking about a “golden period” for him to enlist people’s support and cooperation in this most difficult time.

A real conversation with the Thai people by Prime Minister Prayut is certainly needed now.

 

By Thepchai Yong

 

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