Regional Outlook, Global Perspective

Government Can’t Ignore Shift in Public Sentiment

Government Can’t Ignore Shift in Public Sentiment

THAILAND

The Nation

1 Feb 2018

Four years on, the military has worn out its welcome.

Judging from his words on Tuesday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha seems aware that the longer a government is in power, the more challenges it faces, particularly from dissatisfied citizens.

Speaking to Government House reporters, General Prayut admitted his post-coup government’s popularity was in decline, but he added that this was common for governments by the time they reached their fourth year. So he appears to be well aware of negative public sentiment towards long-ruling administrations, whose popularity does indeed tend to dip as time goes by and dissatisfaction builds amid repeated policy blunders and failures to deliver on promises.

After years of mistakes and shortcomings, even elected civilian governments can feel the heat of citizen anger and calls for them to be replaced as soon as possible. The current one is certainly not elected, but it is the longest-lived junta regime in the recent Thai political history, having been in power since the coup of May 2014.

The premier once said that, without public support, his government would not have lasted so long. That was true enough at the time. But now, for many people, his government is overstaying its welcome. As Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda warned recently, this government was running low on support. Prayut should mind this fact and heed Prem’s warning – and without making any attempt to interpret what the elder statesman said in a way that makes his regime look good.

The government and the junta, which Prayut also heads, may be confident about their hold on power. They seem convinced that

opposition to their continued rule has come only from a small minority of the populace. The latest comments by key junta figures like Prayut and his deputy, General Prawit Wongsuwan, indicate they believe only a small group is causing trouble – their “usual suspects”.

Those in power appear unaware that many citizen who welcomed the coup and supported the military government – with its promise of extensive national reforms – have become disillusioned because of the junta’s repeated failures to deliver. Some of those disillusioned former supporters are contributing to the mounting pressure against the junta.

 

For an elected government, the fourth year is its final year in office, and then an election must be held to decide if voters want to grant it the mandate to continue in power. But, for a post-coup administration like Prayut’s, that is not the case. More and more people have become suspicious that the recent developments within the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), which is an organ of the junta, are meant to allow this government more time in power.

With a delay in the election law’s enforcement endorsed by the NLA, the prime minister’s promise to hold a general election in November now seems unrealistic.

Do not underestimate public sentiment, particularly dissatisfaction over government failures to keep promises. Many governments in the past, elected and non-elected alike, came to an early end due to widespread civic outrage stemming from actions that were viewed as unfair or unjust.

Public tolerance is wearing thin, and this is not good news for the military government.

(First published in The Nation – http://www.nationmultimedia.com/detail/opinion/30337665)

 

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