PM Yingluck finally confronts the leadership issue

opinion August 09, 2012 00:00

By Suthichai Yoon
The Nation

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The Bank of Thailand says it has revised the country's 2012 GDP growth projection downwards to 5.7 per cent because of global economic uncertainties in the second half of the year. But Deputy Premier Kittirat na Ranong insists 7 per cent is achievable.

Has anyone asked Premier Yingluck Shinawatra what her forecast is?

How the government will go about making its prediction more accurate than that of the central bank remains a question mark. It’s not even clear whether the premier is in charge of economic affairs.
So far, if polls are to be believed, the premier’s performance rating after one year in office is somewhere between 5.31 and 6.11 on a scale of 10, depending on which opinion survey you believe. That’s not too bad considering the fact that all the other major criteria for the government’s performance received scores that were below the halfway mark.
Suan Dusit Poll, released last week, said that while 7,319 respondents asked to evaluate the government’s performance level gave the premier a passing grade of 6.11, some of the most important items on the government’s agenda were rated as unsatisfactory. 
The government’s anti-corruption campaign gets 4.22 out of 10; anti-poverty work is rated 4.56; activities to resolve unemployment are given 4.66; fighting against illegal influence is rated 4.32; and attempts at national reconciliation are given only 4.76 out of 10.
Asked about the general “quality of politics”, the respondents gave 5.15 on the scale of 10, underscoring the people’s general disillusionment and frustration with the country’s political institutions, which have failed miserably in finding ways to put an end to the recurring conflicts. These conflicts are seen to be confined to only a few groups with vested interests. In other words, the rest of the country has nothing whatsoever to do with the political turmoil that has plunged the country into a dark abyss for the past several years.
But how does one explain the fact that the prime minister gets a rating of 6.11 out of 10 while all the major planks in her government’s platform have failed to impress the general public. In other words, the head of the government is deemed acceptable while her policies aren’t.
The opposition Democrats are planning a no-confidence debate against the premier. But don’t bank on them coming up with anything substantial. It will be mostly House rhetoric and it will end with neither the ouster of the prime minister or sufficient pressure on her to improve upon those policies that the public says have failed to deliver the promised goods.
The Democrats are expected to focus their attack on corruption, but they don’t seem to be able to make the vital link between the premier’s personal popularity and her apparent failure to provide the necessary leadership to get things done – or undone.
One glaring example is the controversial rice price guarantee policy, which has been criticised by almost everyone except her own deputy premier and commerce minister. Despite all the hoopla against the policy, the opposition has failed miserably to produce a “smoking gun” to prove how corruption, inefficiency and plain stubbornness have plagued the programme – to the point where there would be no choice for the government but to jettison it.
The premier has, interestingly enough, stayed clear of the issue. She has been able to keep a safe distance from this costly scheme that could prove to be her government’s undoing. So far, she hasn’t had to answer questions on the issue. And even if the project collapses, very little political harm will come her way, believe it or not.
Yingluck knows she will have to respond to criticism about her leadership in all fields, especially on anti-flood measures, control over the rising costs of living, and corruption in mega-projects.
It boils down to her political leadership. And she seems determined to put an end to the big question: Is she really calling all the shots?
Now, after one year in office, she has decided to let it be known that she will be personally in charge of action to tackle the southern insurgency. A big gathering yesterday of all officials concerned (including ministers or their deputies from 17 ministries) underlined her determination to show, “I am ready to call the shots.”
It’s a huge gamble, of course. But it’s a responsibility she can’t postpone indefinitely. Somewhere, somehow, sometime, Yingluck will have to face the fact that her personal charm can’t be the only measure of her success in politics. And the fact that she will lead the fight in the deep South at least shows that she is no longer hiding behind anybody’s shadow, least of all her brother Thaksin’s.