Getting to the bottom of PM poll of polls

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon should examine if the public fears they are trying to prolong their rule.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has every reason to be miffed with pollsters.

The latest survey conducted and released last week by King Prajadhipok's Institute (KPI) indicated former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in 2006, ranked as the most popular prime minister over the past 15 years.

Mr Thaksin had a higher approval rating than Gen Prayut at 93% in 2003, but this dropped to 77.2% in 2006.

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Gen Prayut was second with 87.5% approval in 2015, a year after he staged the last coup. Public confidence in him declined to 84.6% in 2016.

Ms Yingluck, who is on the run, came next with ratings of 69.9% in 2013 and 63.4% in 2014.

Gen Prayut reacted with emotion when asked about the survey by the media. As expected, KPI secretary-general Wuthisarn Tanchai was quick to defend the prime minister -- and the institute itself.

He said it was a "misunderstanding of the poll" which was conducted nationwide from April 24 to May 15. The survey, which involved some 33,420 respondents, was part of activities to mark the KPI's 19th anniversary this year.

According to Mr Wuthisarn, KPI has conducted the survey annually since 2002 -- covering the tenures of six national leaders -- to see how satisfied people were with public services provided by state agencies. Other leaders included in the survey were Somchai Wongsawat who received the worst score of 37.6% and Abhisit Vejjajiva who never won an approval rating above 61.6%.

The KPI secretary-general insisted the poll has nothing to do with the popularity of Thaksin and Gen Prayut.

He said it was regrettable it was framed in terms of a popularity contest.

Mr Wuthisarn directed his criticism at the media for the comparison which he said was unfair. Instead, he urged the media to study the objectives of surveys and present facts, not opinions.

"The media must fully comprehend the context and listen to the facts," he said, claiming that outlets often find ways to editorialise coverage of surveys.

Having gone through Mr Wuthisarn's entire interview, I have to confess that I don't quite understand how opinion polls have got nothing to do with opinions.

However, we have learned that Gen Prayut's popularity has slipped. And that is a fact. Needless to say, this is a hard fact for Gen Prayut to accept.

I don't know if the PM will be able to shrug off this poll result. He may keep thinking about what caused public confidence to drop or if Section 44 is useless when it comes to ratings. I am curious as how he will rate in the next poll.

Given the fact that Thais like strong leaders, the decline in Gen Prayut's popularity is somewhat unusual.

I still remember when he boasted how running a country was so easy. He may not think that way again as there are a number of difficult decisions to make as head of the government. There are also number of wrong decisions that may have caused approval ratings to dip.

I can point to a few. One of them was his decision to allow the navy to purchase submarines from China earlier this year which are nothing more than big men's toys. The way the purchase was finalised in secrecy sparked public derision. Talks with several people, including political analysts, seemed to confirm this. The news was followed by a series of arms purchases that raises questions about transparency or lack thereof.

Is it the way he turns a blind eye to silly acts by people around him? Some speak about nepotism and cronyism -- those traits of politicians that he strongly despises. Not to mention some hypocrisy -- the way he hates being branded a dictator but keeps tight control on freedom of expression.

Also last week Gen Prawit Wongsuwon instructed more than 20 Thai military attaches and their deputies to explain to the international community that Thailand still "adheres to democratic principles".

He stressed they explain to the world why the military intervened in politics. It came as a surprise since it's been more than three years since the 2014 coup and the deputy PM still thinks it necessary to stick to the "why" question, which obviously misses the mark.

Now it's really not a question of "why we did it" that matters. On the contrary, what matters is what the regime is doing to achieve reconciliation. It's more of "when the military will end its rule and the country returns to democracy".

Perhaps Gen Prawit and Gen Prayut should look again. It might be fears that the military will prolong its rule that has cost the leader his popularity.

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