Read the full transcript of Talk to Al Jazeera – Prayuth Chan-ocha: 'No one else could do the job' below:
Scott Heidler: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for talking to Al Jazeera.
Just over a year ago, when you led the military take-over of a democratically-elected government here. You said there was a lot of crying in your household, that night before the coup.
Why was it such an emotional decision for you to do what you did? And is the country, more than a year on, closer to becoming democratic again?
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: This was my decision and mine alone. No powers ordered me to act. It was an outright decision, a dangerous and risky one.
My family knew nothing about it. From that day, neither I nor my family are particularly happy, except for being happy about being able to work and to do something for the nation.
So my family has had to forsake something, just as I have, and to understand one another.
As far as the country and foreign relations are concerned, I have continued to foster an understanding of what I have been doing since I took over and to see whether or not I have been causing any problems.
Because the international community follows everything that I do.
Everything I have done has been in keeping in accordance with the roadmap.
Now, the government has been working for a full year.
For the first 5 months there was the NPCO and then came the government, right?
First the government started solving urgent problems such as: violence, armaments, corruption and illegality. We brought order to society and during those 5 months we were pretty successful.
We brought order to the beaches and organized trading and addressed infringements of the law, which had not been addressed before.
The previously elected governments had not addressed these problems because they concern poor people, right?
Poor people do things. Usually, they don’t do things correctly. Nothing serious but, for example they go around and sell things in the wrong places and then the nation is messy.
The beach is dirty, it’s not clean, and then the tourists aren’t happy.
Scott Heidler: You describe this as returning the country to happiness. This is kind of what you, in your weekly addresses, talk about: how to return Thailand back to a place that’s happier. And as the man who’s leading that charge, I’d be very interested to hear, what makes you happy, what you, as a person, makes you happy. And then how is that being worked into what you’re doing for the country?
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: If you are asking me whether the people are happy, then as far as I know from my enquiries and from meeting people and based on the reception that I get when I visit people all over the country and the social media and the press, people are happier than they were before.
It’s just that happiness and unhappiness coexist.
Happiness is not shared by everyone.
But what people are happy about is that the nation is at peace and in order.
There is no recourse to arms or shootings or bombings, there is none of that.
And then secondly, one reason why the people are happy is because they do not have to encounter…what is it, what do you call it? Demonstrations. That went on for ages.
As for me, you know what makes me happy? I’m happy that I am making other people happy.
But happiness is not shared by everyone. There are gains and losses. Correct? The people who lose out are not very happy about that.
The people who gain, but I chose who gains and who loses the most.
I want the people who have economic disparity, the people who are on a low income to be happier.
And I want the country to be stable and to move forward into the future. That’s what would make me happy.
If you are asking if I’m happy to have power, then no, I don’t have power and I am not happy.
Scott Heidler: And as a leader taking these people, marching them down, leading them down this path so that everyone can be more happy, are there any leaders that you look to, historical reference that you look up to and try to emulate them in the way that you are leading? Is there any one or maybe even just a body of kind of politics that you follow, that you, as a person, as a leader try to use in your day to day?
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: I look to everyone. I mean this with regard to the context of outside my own country.
But what leads me in administering my own country is my King.
Because the King has achieved so much throughout His Majesty’s entire life: in terms of development, in terms of sufficiency economics, which is suited to our current situation, and not only in Thailand but anywhere in the world where there is serious discord.
Wherever there is economic disparity, then everyone should follow the path set out by my King in order to move forward.
I do not wish to force anyone to follow his lead, but I think that the King’s policy is useful for Thailand at the current time.
Scott Heidler: When you were a young soldier, did you ever dream that you would be, or have any thoughts, political thoughts, that you would be running the country?
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: No, I never thought that I would.
Scott Heidler: And I see you shaking your head. No. If that’s so, then why are you the best man to run the country now?
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha:
Ever since I was a small child, I never thought that I would become anyone in the future. But I could not determine my own future. The people who could control my future were my parents, my teachers, the job that I did and my military commanders.
I gave up my role when I was Commander in Chief of the Army for 4 years. And then during my last year, there began to be a lot of unrest. In fact there had been a lot of unrest for the whole 10-year period.
So I never thought that I was the right person to be Prime Minister. But there was no one else. No one else could do the job, only me because there were legal and constitutional issues and all kinds of disagreements that the previous government was unable to resolve.
And nothing could move forward. And when the government did not have complete power and the Prime Minister had to step down because there were infringements of the law. Only Martial Law could work and I was the only person who could enforce it because I had the military power.
And there are so many politicians in Thailand. We went up to what you would consider Red-Shirt heartland, up in Khon Kaen, and we spoke with the Red-Shirts there.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: Oh, Red-Shirts.
Scott Heidler: Part of your process, your reconciliation process, is to bring that political divide closer which caused the protests that we saw on the streets, that the coup you said was designed to stop. They say that there really isn’t a reconciliation program where they are and we spoke with a Red-Shirt leader who has a million followers. They say it’s non-existent. When you have so many people who want to become politically active and you’re saying you became the leader because of the constitution, because of default almost, what do you tell them? What kind of promises do you make to the Red-Shirts, to those who are, I guess, from the opposition that democracy will return to Thailand?
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: Allow me to say that this shows that you do not understand.
I am not an enemy of the Red-Shirts, or the Yellow-Shirts.
That’s not me.
No more colors. People must stop taking colored sides. They must talk with one another and find a way of uniting.
Following that, the leaders of the Red-Shirts, the whatever-Shirts, must all be brought to justice, because they are all to blame, all their leaders are. But they have all been released on bail. Do you understand? So they were in the wrong? If they are proven to have been wrong in a court of law then they must cease harassing people.
For example, is it illegal to use weapons, is it against the law? The ones who are in prison at the moment…
I can tell you that the Red-Shirts deny having done anything wrong. This is not politics. All right, it might have been taken in a political context, but who was it that led those people to burn down government offices? Who used those people to shoot at the army and at government officials and to fire at state and government buildings? Who? Do they accept responsibility for this? Because the evidence is clear.
So don’t come here today saying such things. Don’t come here saying that I am protecting one side, because that is not the case. I have already said that in my current role of bringing about reconciliation, I call in people from all sides and colors and they are in agreement about reconciliation. But the one thing that they are unable to be reconciled over is politics. Everyone wants to be in power.
So I must continue to remain in power in order to warn all sides that if they step over the line, then it is my duty to request that they meet me and to tell them that they have done wrong, that they must cease to behave in a way that is not right and that I have intervened in order to solve the problem because they have done something wrong and I must address the situation. That is what I say, but they do not accept it. They say that’s it’s unfair. They have to listen to me, just as they had to listen to the previous government.
Many people use the social media and the leaders come out to speak. I am not lying; I do not know how to lie. The government must not lie; nobody should lie, irrespective of which side they are on.
Scott Heidler: On those lines, when you look at return to democracy and getting the political sides together again at least to an extent where there can be a non-violent political dialogue and an election, one of the base-lines for elections, for a democracy I should say, and properly covering elections, is a free and fair media and one thing that you have come under criticism for is how you’ve handled reporters, the media here a couple of times, and I’d like to read something to you, just a couple of quotes. This is yourself: “The media has to help. From now on I will keep my eyes on all media and if necessary I will use my power on everyone”. And in one exchange in particular with a journalist, you said, “Don’t pick a fight with me, don’t make me go to war with the media”. The reporter responded, “So what will be the punishment?” and you said, “Execution, maybe”. To me, as a reporter, you know, I wasn’t there, I don’t speak Thai, so I don’t know what the context was, but there couldn’t be anything more harsh coming from a leader speaking to someone who’s supposed to be freely and fairly covering a government.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: I understand. Sometimes I’m just being Thai. Thais fit in to Thai society.
Thai journalists know that I’m only joking with them because I am always so kind and compassionate towards them. The media needs to be reformed. I have to advise them. I have to tell them what they can and what they cannot do. Sometimes I might go a bit over the top in what I say, for example like saying that I will punish them. But I have never punished a single one of them. So all of this is just based on what the other side put on social media.
The journalists understand. And I am kind to them. But I don’t like it when they haven’t done their research beforehand. If they are going to ask me questions about politics and about security issues, then they have to understand the processes involved. That’s the media’s job. If they know what the processes are, then I am very happy to answer their questions. And it’s fun. I enjoy explaining to them what I am thinking and why I am doing something. I’m open to discussing everything, I am not concealing anything.
With regard to Thai academics, they have always been the way that they are. Independent academics are not like foreign academics from other countries. Thai academics have not usually been involved in the practice of politics. They can think and they can read, but they are incapable of actually doing anything. It is I who take in what they say and put it into practice. So they should not blame me for not being able to do everything. If there is something that I am unable to do, then they should join me in solving the problem. But instead of that, they criticize everything. They just make use of the words ‘democracy’ and ‘election’. I ask them if the previous government, which was elected, achieved as much as I have achieved in one year. They didn’t achieve as much.
Scott Heidler: I would like to ask you a question that might put that into context, a kind of international context. Name any foreign leader: Mr Putin, Mr Obama. If they were to say that to a journalist in Washington or Moscow: “, Execution, maybe”.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: Execution.
Scott Heidler: What do you think?
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (interrupts): No, there is none. I was just making a joke in my own way, with a Thai sense of humour. The Thai media understand that. But the international media don’t get it.
Scott Heidler: But as a leader you are supposed to always be on stage, always be ready for that kind of rustling, if it were, the media or with other leaders.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: I understand, I have to be careful.
Scott Heidler: For you to react this way, a bit fiery, this way.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: No.
Scott Heidler: In jest or with a bit of sincerity behind it. What kind of leader do you think you sound like when you say something like that?
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: I’m my own man. I play my own role. And the Thai people must understand me. I’m not forcing them. There are lots of people who like me being this way. But OK, in the eyes of the international community it might not be very acceptable. I’m still in the process of improving on this. But I am not a politician. If you want me to speak sweetly all the time, then I can’t. I speak and then I act. When I speak and then act there are lots of problems and so I get very stressed. It sometimes puts me in a bit of a bad mood. I’ve already apologised to the Thai press and they completely understand me. Most of them like the way I am. But it isn’t acceptable because I am a leader.
Scott Heidler: You apologised to them for saying this?
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: Yes, I did. I apologised last time I was rude. Look, I’ve been a soldier for 38 years. If you include the time when I was at military training school, that’s another 7 years. So a total of 45 years. I’ve been a soldier with my troops, I have a soldier’s approach to things and I’m used to speaking man-to-man. So when I moved into a new context, I never expected to become Prime Minister. When I see problems then I act. But then I sometimes have to answer silly questions and it affects my mood. But I am constantly trying to control myself and to improve on this.
Scott Heidler: When elections do happen, and, as you said, as you will happily kind of take a side step, will you be relieved when you are no longer Prime Minister?
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: Yes, I will feel relieved that I have completed my duties for a short period of time. In accordance with my roadmap, that will have been how long? A year or so, two years, no more than that. I will be happy to have done something for the Thai people. I was born in Thailand, I have always stood on Thai soil. Enabling me to have freedom. That’s all that I am proud of. Give it two years and then let’s see what a new government will have achieved.
They might demolish everything that I have done because they think that what they are doing is better. But if it’s not better and it fails, then the people do not have to accept it. Right? So apart from putting myself in the firing line, what I now want to do is to build a future for the country.
Scott Heidler: As a soldier, as a career soldier, as a very experienced soldier who was on the cusp of retiring and put in this position you were, what, as a person, intellectually, and even just the way you have been carrying out your life, what kind of shift had to happen, what kind of change had to happen for you to one day to be wearing the uniform and the next day be wearing a suit?
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: Being a soldier and being a Prime Minister are two very different things. Even now I don’t feel that I have any power, because I think that my power is geared towards being constructive. And sometimes I wake up and think to myself am I really the Prime Minister? And whenever someone calls me “Prime Minister”, I’m always surprised. I don’t like people calling me “Prime Minister”, because I did not want to become a politician. I took up the position because the situation dictated that I did so. And I have had to work as best I can and as swiftly as I can.
Scott Heidler: I would imagine that one of the biggest challenges, and you have had many, based on the history of how you became Prime Minister, many challenges running the government here. One I would have to imagine, would be the situation with the migrants and so much international focus and obviously a situation that had been going on the past year when you were Prime Minister but then before when you were the head, the head of the military, and just recently one officer has been implicated in being involved in these human trafficking networks. How do you respond to that? Because we were hearing from top brass in the military and from the administration that no military was involved in this, yet now we’re hearing they were.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: With regard to the military, as long as there is no case and no evidence, then I cannot comment on who is involved. But once there is evidence then they will have to be punished. You understand? Up until now I have said that the military were not involved because we have not found any evidence. But when we do find evidence, then we will know that they were involved.
I have not said that it will not happen again or that it never happened. But at that time when that incident took place there was no information about the military having been involved. It has always been the responsibility of the military to solve the problem of migrants. I would like to explain this to you.
No government has ever been clear with regard to this issue and the military has had to take responsibility for it. But we cannot solve every problem. So when it is reported that the military were involved, then they have turned themselves in and I have demanded that there be a full legal investigation.
Scott Heidler: What else needs to be done though to ensure it doesn’t happen again? I mean, we’ve been down to the border and we know that the borders are sealed, but what about the systemic problems that were there? With the local police force, with the local politicians. And now it sounds possibly as you said, it’ll be determined later in a court of law with the military, if there are senior military officials involved. What can be done though to prevent that from happening again? I mean, you’ve kind of had the lessons learned I guess at this stage. Some of the lessons.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: I am perfectly clear about this. I have maintained a policy on this right from the outset.
When people decide to emigrate, we have to find out why they are emigrating and how we can help them in their country of origin. Different countries have different fundamental problems: political problems and so on, problems of poverty, limited development. That’s at the point of origin. So the entire population has to help them, accept them and help them, not punish them or blame them excessively.
Why are they unable to help themselves? Because the national income is low. And why is it so low? Is it because it’s an agricultural economy? Is it because the value of their agricultural produce is low? Or is it because they are unable to grow anything? Or because their public health system is poor? So we have to join together and help them over there.
If migrants are not leaving their place of origin, then there is no transit period for them. It is when they’re in transit that there are people traffickers, people who take advantage of the fact that these people are already in transit. These traffickers are law-breakers and there are bad people everywhere, right?
If everyone in the world was good, then there would be no problems in the world. But there are always bad people around and these bad people will take advantage of a situation. But if there were no migrants, then nobody would be able to traffic them, right?
If these people are caught trafficking, then they will be punished in keeping with the law, there will be no leniency for them because they are breaking the law. They have to be made to understand that they are breaking the law.
And then we move on to the destination point. The migrants’ destination is the third country in the equation: the country to which they want to travel. Am I right? This problem doesn’t only exist here, this problem exists everywhere. You know that.
Scott Heidler: It is a very big problem. I know you are a spiritual man let’s look back to just over a year ago.
You know that there, there was a situation that was unfolding, and as you said, this was something that you said you didn’t dream of doing as a young soldier: becoming the leader of Thailand.
But when you look at your spirituality, when you look at the bigger picture, in some way do you feel as though you were chosen for this? Or is this something, a situation that you just had to step into, like a soldier would?
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: I worked hard at preparing myself and during the run-up to the 22nd of May 2014 I didn’t sleep. I had to think hard about what I would do when I took power, because before that I had never planned to take over.
It was simply that the situation demanded it. And when I did take power, I had to act as swiftly as possible in the time that I had because the nation had already been in a deadlock for such a long time.
I wondered if anyone else would have taken power in this way, would have taken the risk that I had taken. I was ready for it by then. At that time I was the leader and I was expecting someone else to become Prime Minister. But it turned out that nobody else wanted to do so. Because they were aware of how much hard work it would involve: being Prime Minister in the midst of discord. Do you understand?
Previously, there was never as much disagreement as there is now. This was the difference about Thailand at the time when I took over. I took a greater risk than any previous Prime Minister had done, because previously there had never been two strongly opposing factions in the way that there are now.
I took the risk of clashing with both sides. But I was lucky because one side agreed to stop. The government stopped, those in the government stopped. And then everyone turned to me to solve the problems.
That is what I obtained: a resolution. I believe that the people enabled me to solve problems for them. But I had to solve problems for the people, for the country, for the people who had broken the law so that they would receive justice. That was my responsibility. Irrespective of whether they were Red-Shirts, Yellow-Shirts or Green-Shirts, I had to solve the problems for everyone. That means solving the problems through the legal system.
So now there is a continual interest in me outside Thailand. People come and visit me from every country: From Europe, from the East, all the super powers, they all come, the ones who oppose, all of them. Relating to me and to democracy. They all come. But they show me their respect.
They tell me that we must trade with one another and set up mutual agreements. And I tell them, I ask for their understanding. I tell them “I have done what I have done both for the Thai people and for you”. Since I took power I have never done anyone any harm, I have never taken over anyone’s ventures.
All I have done is facilitate things for people and improve everything for them. And you know what they say to me, these foreign administrators and businessmen? They say that they are happy that I am in power and they ask me if I can ensure that Thailand continues in this manner.
You see, I am not lying to you. All these countries say the same thing to me. And I tell them that I cannot guarantee that Thailand will continue in this manner, I can only ensure that it stays like this while I am still in power, but that if other factions appear in the future, then I won’t be able to uphold my promise. But I promise them that I will take measures to ensure that there is no recurrence of unrest after I am no longer in power.
So where does my duty lie? In reforming the constitution. It has to be set out clearly. And then the next government which takes over will be more virtuous and just and it will not do the kinds of things that previous government have done. So unrest will not occur again.
So I want to tell every country in the world to have confidence in Thailand. We have strong qualities. In the past we were the head of ASEAN, but we did not make the best use of this because we were too preoccupied with arguing with one another.
It might be a happy place. You know that, you live in Thailand. You know that Thailand is a happy place and that nobody is starving in Thailand. We are happy, but then we start arguing with one another. Right? And these disagreements have existed for quite some time because the country has never been reformed. If you look at the major powers in the world, they have been arguing for much longer than they have here and have used up more energy than here and more people have died than here: 60,000 or 70,000 people, 600,000 or 700,000. Nobody has died here. I want the people to have a future, everyone must have a future. The civil servants here are all good civil servants who truly serve the people. We do not need power-seeking politicians to cause trouble and benefit by ruling the country for the sake of their political party and themselves. No, I will not let that happen. Do you understand?
Scott Heidler: Prime Minister Prayuth, thank you very much for talking to Al Jazeera.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: Thank you for giving me your respect.
Source: Al Jazeera