The curious case of Yingluck Shinawatra’s Bangkok Post (non-)interview

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 27, 2014

On Monday, the ‘Bangkok Post’ ran what was touted as the “first interview” given by former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra since the military coup of May 22, 2014, which ousted her government after nearly six months of anti-government protests and thus a manufactured political deadlock.

In the story, written by the Post’s military correspondent Wassana Nanuam, Yingluck said that she “knew from the first day” in office that her tenure would be cut short; if not by “the independent agencies or the judiciary, [then] it would be a coup.” In another poignant quote attributed to Yingluck, she described her removal from office with this metaphor:

I did my best to fulfil my duty as a prime minister installed via an election and who preserved democracy,” she said. “It’s the same as if the people had handed me the car keys and said I must drive and lead the country. Then suddenly, someone points a gun at my head and tells me to get out of the car while I’m at the wheel driving the people forward.

“Yingluck saw the coup coming”, by Wassana Nanuam, Bangkok Post, November 24, 2014 [article removed, read copy here]

This is a rather strong statement from the former prime minister, who’s known for her rather soft and reconciliatory rhetoric and has shied away from giving interviews or to comment publicly since the coup. Furthermore (according to the article at least), Yingluck also didn’t rule out that she may enter politics again, if she isn’t disqualified before and if there’ll be any democratic elections in the near future.

Then, the article was removed from the ‘Bangkok Post’ website on Tuesday.

That raised suspicions as to whether or not there was some sort of outside interference, given the sensitive subject and the rather bold words. After all, since the military coup the media is under strict scrutiny of the military junta, hardly allowing any criticism (let alone opposition voices) – so much so that Thai junta Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha told the media not to report on the ousted PM or her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was himself toppled in a military coup in 2006 and has been in self-imposed exile for years; while still wielding considerable influence in Thai politics from afar.

But the actual reason was apparently more banal:

[…] its author, Wassana Nanuam, later wrote on her Facebook that the piece was not based on an interview with Yingluck. Rather, the article was drawn from bits and pieces of private conversations with the former leader, Wassana wrote. 

“I just wanted to present lighthearted and colourful angles [of former PM Yingluck]. I didn’t want to focus on politics,” Wassana wrote. “Let me insist that this is not an interview. It’s a recollection of lighthearted and colourful topics about the former Madam Prime Minister.”

According to Wassana, the editors at Bangkok Post“misunderstood” the intention of her article when they edited the piece.

“They may have looked at the heavy angles and raised them into points that are different to what the author intended to present, but I recognise it as the error on my own part.”

She concluded, “I’d like to take responsibility for any [errors] that were caused by the lack of clear communication from my article. I know that I will be criticised and scolded by many sides.”

Bangkok Post Reporter Retracts Interview With Yingluck“, Khaosod English, November 25, 2014

Just to recap on what Wassana said: she essentially intended to write a fluff, “lighthearted” piece about former prime minister Yingluck’s life after the coup – all based on comments by her that were off-the-record! Yingluck’s former secretary Suranand Vejjajiva also confirmed in a TV appearance that, while the two women did meet,  Yingluck did not give an official interview. And yet somehow, these off-the-cuffs remarks have found their way into written word and were then suddenly published as an interview that was in no way “lighthearted”.

But it is really hard to tell that “bits and pieces of private conversations” are off-the-record and aren’t supposed to be published, no?!

To say that the Post and Wassana’s (whose apparent closeness to many of the top brass has often been questioned) decision to run the story as it was is a major blunder would be a major understatement. This fundamental editorial misjudgment (even more glaring given Wassana’s experience) has – intended or not – set things in motion already.

Prayuth is apparently fuming and is considering to put a travel ban on Yingluck (while another Bangkok Post story still is referring to the non-existent ‘interview’), which would prevent her from fleeing Thailand as she is still facing an investigation for dereliction of duty in her government’s controversial rice pledging scheme by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). This could result in her impeachment – despite the fact that she is already toppled from power but could also be additionally barred from running for office in the future. But the NACC is also thinking out loud about criminal charges against Yingluck, which could spell real trouble for the former prime minister.

Yingluck has publicly said she won’t flee the country and that she will be “keeping a low profile”, looking after the house and her son – all in all, avoiding the media spotlight. It didn’t quite work out that way because, it seems, that somebody doesn’t know the difference between on- and off-the-record…!