Thai pollster quits after survey on DPM watch scandal is held back

A luxury watch is seen on the wrist of the Thai junta's No. 2 man Prawit Wongsuwan, on Dec 4, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - A Thai pollster said he was resigning on Monday (Jan 29) after his boss held back a survey on a watch scandal dogging the deputy prime minister as criticism piles up on the junta for not taking action against the general.

The military regime's No. 2 Prawit Wongsuwan has been under growing pressure to explain his penchant for luxury watches, an embarrassment for the generals who seized power in 2014 vowing to end the country's political turmoil and endemic corruption.

In recent weeks, Internet sleuths have dug up photos of Prawit wearing more than two dozen luxury watches which he has explained away as temporary loans from friends.

The scandal was a timely subject for Arnond Sakworawich, who recently became chief pollster at the National Institute of Development Administration, a university in Bangkok.

His survey asked respondents whether they believed Prawit's answer about the origins of his pricey wristwear.

More than 80 per cent said they didn't but the results were blocked, prompting him to quit the post.

"I cannot work if I do not have freedom of academic expression," he told AFP, though he will remain a member of the faculty.

Arnond said he had been told the poll could "mislead" the public as the country's National Anti-Corruption Commission has yet to decide on carrying out an official graft probe and that the survey should not focus on a single person within the junta.

Arnond responded that Prawit, who is deputy prime minister and defence minister, remains a public figure.

NIDA's president Pradid Wanrat, who is also a member of the junta-backed National Legislative Assembly, admitted to blocking the poll, citing the ongoing work of the anti-corruption commission and suggested the results could be released afterwards.

"If the poll is related to government or Cabinet performance, it is okay, but not a specific particular person," he said, adding that he was not pressured by anyone else over his decision.

The watch scandal has generated an unusual amount of outcry, opinion pieces and public shows of dissent in a country where criticism of the junta has been quashed and impunity is enjoyed by the rich and powerful.

It also comes at a time of heightened criticism over the ongoing postponement of democratic elections, which were once again delayed last week most likely until 2019. The timepiece troubles for Prawit may never have happened if not for the muckraking "CSI LA" Facebook page, which is responsible for digging up and posting photos of the models. The page has counted 25 watches collectively worth US$1.2 million (S$1.5 million), including 11 Rolexes, eight Patek Philippes and three Richard Milles.

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