Prayuth ‘Leaked Clip’ Under Investigation

Junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha takes a walk around Government House on Wednesday

BANGKOK — In an audio message leaked to the media last week, several people were heard discussing the candidates seeking jobs as the top regulators of mass media and telecommunications.

An unidentified man suggested the interim parliament approve the 14 candidates, because a new round of selection may not produce the same “good people” among the current set of applicants. He was cut off by another man, also unidentified.

“I have been informed over the holidays that the prime minister is not happy with the 14 candidates,” the man said. “He wants to use his power to cancel the selection of these people.”

Several seconds of awkward silence followed.

By Tuesday, officials said they are investigating whether the clip is genuine or doctored, and whether it proved the junta chief was intervening in the decision of the parliament, which voted last week to reject the candidates. On the same day, the junta invoked its absolute power and abolish the entire selection process – just as the unknown man alleged in the audio.

“If we identify any person, we will invite them to explain about the details,” Chatchaval Suksomchit, an official tasked with the inquiry, told reporters. “If the audio clip was altered, we have to find out where it was from, and we will prosecute those who produced it.”

He added, “I think this is not a difficult issue, and I’m confident that I can investigate until I have all the facts within the assigned time frame, which is 30 days.”

A longtime junta critic said he doesn’t expect much from the investigation.

“In the end they will turn up empty-handed,” Srisuwan Janya, who’s filed more than 1,000 transparency complaints against the government, said in a Tuesday interview. “It’s just a rigged boxing match designed to fool the public.”

All current board members of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, or NBTC, were supported to be replaced since November, but a lengthy process to select their successors means they must remain on their posts. Their tasks involved granting license to and monitoring the conducts of the media and telecom firms – businesses that are worth billions of baht annually.

On Thursday, the parliament voted 118 – 25 to deny the jobs to the 14 candidates, mostly military officers and former NBTC officials. The lawmakers said some of them were registered as executives in private firms within a year prior to their application, while others lacked necessary expertise to run the commission.

Top lawmakers involved in the Thursday’s vote said they did not receive any order from Prayuth.

“This matter was up to discretion of each [lawmaker],” interim parliament chairman Pornpetch Wichitcholchai said Friday. “They are all knowledgeable, and there are over 200 of them. It’s impossible that they can be ordered or controlled by anyone.”

In an order issued Tuesday, the junta extended terms of the current commissioners and delayed a new selection round indefinitely.

Srisuwan, the transparency activist, questioned why the 14 candidates were selected in the first place if they had glaring disqualifications. He said he’s already filed two complaints to the parliament over the selection process.

“They must find people with competence, not people from the same gang to take up the baton from their own pals,” Srisuwan said. “The public must closely watch this process.”