11 July 2024

Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s communication style has never been impressive, especially when it comes to tackling crises like the COVID-19 outbreak that hit the country early last year.

His regular address to the nation often draws criticism and has done little to boost public confidence in the government.

His 23-minute televised speech on Friday (April 16) disappointed the public again at a time when the country is tackling its third and fastest-growing wave of infections. The latest outbreak has now spread to all 77 provinces with cases rising daily. On Sunday (April 18), the daily caseload had hit a record 1,767.

Derisive comments flooded social media as soon as Prayut wrapped up his speech, with many netizens complaining his statement had no substance and communicated nothing during this crisis.

The public said they expected a concise, meaningful message from the leader about the steps his government is taking to ensure people’s safety.

But instead of focusing on measures and easing fears over a potential curfew and lockdown, or even assuring the public about vaccines, Prayut complained about his critics, made sarcastic comments about anti-government protesters and defended himself. He also made some irrelevant references which left the public confused.

Thai PM says no lockdowns or curfews yet

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha assured today (Friday) that the government will not yet impose lockdowns or curfews in order to contain the COVID-19 spread, adding that he felt the pain every time such restrictions were imposed in the past, because they hurt a lot of people, especially low income, grassroots people.

Attacking opposition

Prayut singled out the anti-establishment movement, saying he was “concerned” about the lack of social distancing and that political rallies only exposed people to infections.

“Though you [protesters] have the right to rally, you must be very careful. I’m not threatening [you] … but today we need pundits, not people who want to sabotage each other. The country can’t survive [if this continues],” he said.

He also claimed his critics are distorting information to attack his government.

“To prevent confusion, please don’t read the distorted [information]. You should listen to the government. Those who attack the government for their own benefit are not helping solve the problem for all Thais,” he said.

He kept the audience waiting for nearly 20 minutes before touching on the key topic – no curfew and no lockdown – and only did so after one of his advisers lifted a sign to alert him about it.

Some netizens said watching his speech was a waste of time, while others said they wanted to smash their TV screen out of sheer frustration.

“The public wants to know if every citizen will get vaccinated and when. Instead, the PM confused the public and even wrongly identified the names of vaccines [that will be acquired]. Please don’t do that again,” former deputy PM Plodprasop Suraswadi said in a Facebook post.

Public expressions of frustration and dismay on Friday were little different from the response to Prayut’s first public address about the crisis more than a year ago in March 2020.

PM sprays alcohol at reporters – Thai PBS World Tonight [10th March 2021]

Thailand’s prime minister became frustrated after being repeatedly questioned about a possible cabinet reshuffle, and responded by spraying isopropyl alcohol at some of the press corps. Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha sprayed the alcohol at reporters sitting in the front row at a weekly news conference on Tuesday.

Blame game

Instead of emotionally attacking his critics and opponents, Prayut should limit his speeches to facts, figures and information on COVID-19 as well as the government’s solutions to the crisis, said Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

“Prayut has failed to pass the test of effective communication during a crisis. His comments had nothing to do with what the public wants to hear in a crisis. They want to know what the government will do to tackle the latest outbreak, instead of wasting their time listening to him blaming others,” Yuthaporn commented.

The academic said at this point the public wants to know whether infected people will have access to medical facilities, how many vaccines the country has, how the country is progressing in inoculating its people, what alternative vaccines are available, and how the economy will be revived in the wake of tough restrictions.

Observers say the public would be less confused if Prayut stopped delivering angry speeches peppered with sarcasm and complaints.

“If he can’t stop talking the way he does, he should speak less and let others, like relevant ministers or doctors – deliver facts and information to help ease people’s anxiety,” Yuthaporn added.

Weak leadership?

As the country’s leader, Prayut should be providing appropriate information, but he has never been able to assure the public that they are safe in a crisis under his leadership, said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of Ubon Ratchathani University’s political science faculty.

“I’m not surprised. This was not his worst speech. He has never really delivered any key messages or unveiled strong, clear, constructive policies. His latest speech had no substance as usual and was only used to blame others,” the political communication lecturer said.

The speech reflected the mindset of Prayut and his government, which have never tried to be constructive or engage with the opposition, he added.

“Claiming that all critics have a political agenda will not solve the problem. It is a bad mindset to not accept any scrutiny or questions raised against the government,” Titipol said.

“The government has lost the chance of showing people it can do better because it always thinks that what it has done is the best for the country.”

By Thai PBS World’s Political desk