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Challenge for the PM is to address sensitive questions

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra chooses her exposure to the press very carefully. She rarely gives "exclusive" interviews to the media, and when she does, it can be quite revealing, especially on sensitive issues about her elder brother Thaksin.

It's important that when she does speak to a newspaper on an exclusive basis, she is certain that probing, follow-up questions will not be posed. She can then make statements that don't necessarily answer the questions. The absence of pressure from the interviewer is probably the main reason behind these kinds of "scoops".

The "Thaksin question" is duly asked, of course. And the queries are "duly" responded to. You don't get clear answers, though. You get the typical Yingluck's responses that may or may not satisfy your curiosity. But those are the kind of answers that have, strangely enough, become the acceptable norm, at least for some reporters covering the PM's beat.

A Thai daily published an exclusive interview with the premier on December 28. At least four questions were directly related to Thaksin.

Q: The government is still attached to the name of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister. How will the government "cross over" from Thaksin?

Yingluck: I must say it's a part of the political problem. It stems from a conflict [in which] people are on opposite sides. It is not possible to make people with different opinions see things the same way in one day. It takes time to adjust the tune. That means mutual sympathy. They must talk to one another. His Majesty the King's advice on December 5 is what we would like everyone to adhere to.

Q: [On the proposed constitutional amendments] Police Lieutenant Colonel Thaksin Shinawatra has already phoned in (to tell the party and government) what to do in the new year.

Yingluck: Thaksin is just one voice, just like the rest of the people. Today, the red shirts have their own position. The opposition has its own stand. Political parties have their own positions. Then there are the people. There are also academic groups. What I would like to say is that whatever is called representing the most people should be proposed.

Q: The name of Thaksin seems to be the crux of the problem. How do you overcome or reduce pressure from the friction?

Yingluck: Here, we should talk to one another to clarify the issues. We should clearly specify the people's interests, then we will see the government's clear intention to make a move that benefits the majority of the people.

As I have always said, the movie hasn't even started to run; we can't possibly say how it will end. So, let the middle part of the movie be screened first, so that the people can watch the movie from the beginning. Then, we can say how it will end. As to the view that the [movie] director hasn't replaced the characters, the viewers' feeling remains the same. I only believe in the facts, and perhaps the director may be more sympathetic.

Q: Are you concerned about the "invisible hand" that once created trouble for the Thaksin government?

Yingluck: Today, there are only two hands. Today, we have duties to perform. I believe the people can see that. I am not concerned about anything, be it politics or economics. We believe we have duties to perform; we must do our best. As to the corruption issue, we will have to move ahead vigorously. We will get down to details to block gaps at various levels, by using IT and computer systems to check on them to reduce duplications and to close the corruption gap as much as possible. Anyhow, we are ready to come under inspection.

The interviewer let the PM go at that. There were no follow-up questions. Neither was there any attempt to get clarifications on the ambiguous statements.

She then gave a television channel another "exclusive". The questions weren't all that tough and her answers were slightly clearer.

But it was at a year-end press conference that the premier actually said something more specific. She was asked more or less the same question: How does she react to criticism that her government is only serving one person - her brother Thaksin.

She probably knew that, in the presence of an army of reporters, she couldn't just swing it with a stereotyped statement again. So she said: "If I did that, then the people wouldn't vote me back in the next time."

That, at least, was more like it. The standard response to the most sensitive question for the premier has now been upgraded to a new level. Of course, we will need reporters to follow up with further questioning to that reply.

The PM has perhaps "graduated" - from denying all, to confronting the difficult questions, to facing the sensitive ones. She might have, along the way, found her own answers to those previously "unanswerable" queries. It's time for her to be her real self and face up to the challenge.


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