BANGKOK — A transparency activist Monday called upon a university pollster to release the results of a survey about a top junta figure’s luxury watch collection it censored at the last minute.
Sarinee Achavanuntakul, co-founder of investigative news organization ThaiPublica, said the public has the right to know what the National Institute of Development Administration, or NIDA, found out about the public’s opinion of deputy junt leader Prawit Wongsuwan’s possession of millions of baht worth of luxury watches he failed to mention in mandatory disclosures of his assets.
“This is something that the public wants to see,” Sarinee said. “For the sake of transparency, the poll results should be released because it was conducted properly.”
NIDA rector Pradit Wanarat said in a Monday news conference that the junta was not behind quashing the poll. Pradit was speaking a day after the man in charge of the polling agency resigned in protest of the decision to “self-censor” publication of the results.
The survey, he explained, asked respondents whether they believed Gen. Prawit’s explanation that he did not need to declare the more than two dozen timepieces because he says were borrowed from friends.
In a Monday’s interview, Pradit said he would only release the poll results after the investigation on Prawit is concluded, lest it “influences” the popular opinion and force the anti-graft agency to appease the public.
“The NACC reads the news that reporters write, too,” Pradit said, referring to the National Anti-Corruption Commission. “They will see what the people are feeling. And if it turns out their decision follows the popular opinion, they will be accused of following those opinions.”
NIDA regularly publishes polls showing strong support for the junta and its leaders. In August, it said 81 percent of respondents believe junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha is motivated by love for his country. Another poll published in October claimed 71 percent of participants wouldn’t mind if the junta delayed the next election.
In today’s interview, Pradit said NIDA has always adhered to rigorous polling methods and he believes the incident will not affect credibility of his polling agency.
But the decision already prompted Arnond Sakworawich, the university’s chief pollster, to publicly announce his resignation. While Arnond said he still supported the junta and the 2014 coup that brought the regime to power, his political stance did not mean he had to “lick” their boots.
“Academic freedom and mutual respect are most important to me,” Arnond wrote. “I supported the coup, and I still support the government, but if there is anything wrong or unfair, I don’t have to lick top boots.”
He later added another post saying the government did not interfere with the poll.
“The government/military/NCPO was not involved in censorship of the result of NIDA poll. Arnond wrote. “Please stop linking it to the government/military/NCPO.”
He added in English, “This is self-censor.”
Arnond could not be reached for comment as of publication time. His remark was criticized by the NIDA rector in today’s interview.
“Suppose Mr. A is charged and accused of something in court. Then a state university goes around and asks people if they think he did it,” Pradit said. “That’s not academic freedom. That’s influencing the outcome of a case.”
Sarinee, the transparency activist and writer, said the incident is yet another example of limits on free expression under the military regime.
Although the university insisted it self-censored the poll without government interference, Sarinee said the junta has a track record of censoring speech, citing instances it has blocked academic seminars and its prosecution of activist Veera Somkwamkid for a mock online poll about junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha back in March.
“Even though the professors say it’s not about censorship, it reminds me a lot of Veera’s case,” she said.