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PM cold to activist student’s invitation for a public debate

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A STUDENT activist has challenged Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha to a public debate with him on Thailand’s future after the junta leader told him to “come out when the country is in trouble”.


“Now I think the country has been in huge trouble since you took power,” said Tanawat Wongchai, an economics sophomore student at Chulalongkorn University.
The message is in a public invitation he posted on Facebook on Tuesday night.
However, the prime minister is not likely to accept the invitation as he does not like to “argue back and forth” with student activists, Government Spokesman Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said yesterday.
“Anyone should consider the status of debaters before accepting an invitation. A student debating with a national leader is an unlikely scene,” Sansern said. “You’d better ask Chulalongkorn University deans whether they would agree to join such a debate if they were the prime minister.”
While Prayut’s refusal to join the debate was no surprise, Tanawat affirmed that he was always ready should the PM ever change his mind.
The proposed debate aims to seek solutions on “issues perceived to be very challenging to the country”, the 19-year-old student said. These would include fiscal sustainability in an ageing society, environmental issues and the government-declared national agendas on human rights and Thailand 4.0 economic scheme, he added. 
Tanawat was one of a few students holding a paper banner in protest against the junta leader, who gave a special lecture at the university last Monday. Seeing the handwritten message “Chula students love Uncle Too [dictator]”, Prayut said in response: “You’re so smart. Do come out next time when the country is in trouble.”
The confrontation was followed by uninvited visits from military officers to the students and their associations a few days after. Tanawat’s faculty was approached by officers who attempted to ask for information about him.
Tanawat subsequently joined other students in bringing a petition to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) regional Office for Southeast Asia, calling for international attention to what they saw as harassment by authorities. PM cold to activist student’s invitation for a public debate
Tanawat (center) when he filed a petition on alleged harassment committed by authorties to the OHCHR on April 11
He told The Nation that he was not afraid if the debate invitation brought him more threats.
“My debate invitation stemmed from Prayut’s ‘invitation’ to us. How could this be any threat to national security?” he said. “But it may be a threat to the junta government’s security. For one thing is certain: Thais will get to see the government’s vision from this debate.”
Tanawat said he thought that a dialogue with the leader should be possible for the the country’s youth. “If Oxford University students could ask for a debate with [United Kingdom] PM Theresa May, why could we not do the same thing here in Thailand? Debates with leaders should not be limited to political players,” he said.
“I’m not the best speaker out there but I have researched academically to some extent,” he said. “Prayut may be known for being talkative but the debate should be able to justify whether he is also a good speaker.”
Tanawat, who now serves as deputy head of the university’s student council, became an activist in his high school years with the Education for Liberation group, where he explored subjects of conservatism in traditional school rules and education policy. 

Published : April 18, 2018

By : WASAMON AUDJARINT THE NATION