For this week’s Big Interview, we caught up with Palang Pracharath Deputy Leader Paibul Nititawan. We asked the former Constitutional Drafting Committee member for his thoughts on the Covid-19 outbreak, on Thamanat Prompao, and the possibility of the Democrat Party leaving the coalition.
TE: How would you rate the government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak so far?
Paibul: I think we’re doing an excellent job so far. The Thai people deserve a lot of the credit in helping us fight this disease, but I think we’re doing a really, really good job.
TE: Really? Excellent? There has been some criticism over our response, how we haven’t closed the country…
Paibul: Context is everything. We have to look at how our neighbours are doing and compare it to ourselves. When the crisis started in January we were the site of the largest outbreak out of China.
We have managed to keep that number low while Western, more developed countries are having a hard time fighting the disease. Even our regional neighbours, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan are having trouble.
Thailand cannot close the country completely, we see how tourism and foreign investment helps the economy so we have to think about the people’s livelihood as well.
So all in all, we’re doing very well. The citizens deserve a lot of credit.
TE: Out of 100, how would you rate us?
Paibul: 100/100 or 98/100.
TE: That high? I mean, the Minister of Public Health (Anutin Charnvirakul) has come under a lot of criticism from the public over our response.
Paibul: I think no matter which side you are on the political divide, you will come under some kind of criticism whether it is in the media or online. But we have to look at the results and be fair to Khun Anutin who has kept our [confirmed cases] number down.
But the criticism serves a purpose, the social media criticism helps the government improve and address concerns.
TE: One person that has come under a lot of criticism online is Deputy Agricultural Minister Thamanat Prompao. What do you make of the criticisms of him associating with people who are selling surgical masks online? As deputy party leader, is it time to relegate him to the background?
Paibul: These allegations are very serious and there is an investigation by the police into the matter. If the allegations prove to be true then, of course, the party and the government must take action. Society has spoken on this, if guilty there must be punishment.
Of course, if the investigation is false then we must be fair to Khun Thamanat as well.
TE: What about the drug charges in Australia? Is someone like that fit to be an MP for your party?
Paibul: As far as I know, the Constitutional Court is considering the merits of the case and if the court rules that he is not fit to be an MP then he will be stripped of his status. Let us wait and see what the court says.
TE: What about another of your MPs Pareena Kraikput, she was also involved in a recent land scandal.
Paibul: I think she followed the court’s instructions in the case and we have to let the judicial process run its course. Under the constitution, she stands fit to serve as MP.
TE: Do you still think General Prayut (Chan-ocha) is the best man to serve as prime minister?
Paibul: Look around, tell me who would be better? There is no one better.
This Covid-19 crisis is a time to rally around the prime minister. Security, confidence is important, politics must come second now.
TE: There is talk that the Democrat Party is unhappy with General Prayut’s leadership and certain MPs in the ruling party. They might leave.
Paibul: I will leave that decision up to the people inside the Democrat Party. But there has always been a faction inside that party that has opposed joining the coalition and who do not like General Prayut.
This is not strange. It will be up to Khun Jurin and his party what they decide to do.
TE: What do you make of the student protests against your government and your party?
Paibul: Any time you have students involved in the political process, it is a positive step.
But the students must not let themselves be manipulated by any politician or political party.
They must stay within the rules and the law. Otherwise, I see no problems with it.