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Thailand: Texting Troubles for the Prime Minister

On December 18, 2008, millions of Thai mobile phone subscribers got this text message from the newly installed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva:

“ผมนายกรัฐมนตรีคนใหม่ ขอเชิญท่านร่วมนำประเทศไทยออกจากวิกฤติ สนใจได้รับการติดต่อจากผมกรุณาส่งรหัสไปรษณีย์ 5 หลักของท่านมาที่เบอร์ 9191 (3 บ.)”

“I, the new Prime Minister, invites you to bring Thailand out of the crisis. Interested to get contact from me, please send your 5-digits postcode to the number 9191 (3 Baht)”

If a subscriber replies, a sound clip of PM Abhisit will be delivered to subscriber's phone, saying:

“I, Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Prime Minister, realized that you fellow citizens are suffering, and are under stress. Therefore, I'll concentrate in exerting all my knowledge and ability to help the country. But I can't succeed if Thai people are not together in harmony. So I beg you all a chance.”

sms from the PM

According to Democrat Party officer, the text messaging was an idea of Abhisit himself, and was coordinated by Korn Chatikavanij, the country's Finance Minister. Korn allegedly called Thailand's three major mobile phone operators, AIS, DTAC, and True, for a cooperation to send out the message to their subscribers. The meeting for cooperation was held in December 16, one day before Abhisit Vejjajiva got officially appointed to be the Prime Minister. And the reason for requesting for 5-digits postcode is to evaluate the demographic of those who replied. The subscribers will then be listed in a database.

Sending a text message to a person without the person's consent is considered a violation of a consumer's privacy rights, said consumer rights advocate Saree Ongsomwang. She said Abhisit should opt to keep contacts with the people via television and other public communication outlets in order to avoid infringing on the consumer's rights.

Saree, who is also part of the committee of the Telecommunication Consumer Protection Institute, added that under Thai telecommunication law, mobile phone operators are not allowed to release the list of subscribers without their consent. When the three mobile operators sent the controversial text message to their subscribers, free of charge, in behalf of the Prime Minister or the Democrat Party, it brought some legal and political complications.

Under the 1999 Anti-Corruption Law (amended 2007), state officers, including cabinet members, cannot receive any gift or benefit that is worth more than 3,000 Baht. It is estimated that the sending of the Prime Minister's text message cost more than 10 million Baht. Abhisit could be charged in the courts, as argued by Pheu Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit, urging the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to investigate the case.

If Abhisit and Korn are found guilty, they will be impeached and suspended from holding any political position in accordance with the Constitution.

Comments in the Internet were quite mixed at that time. In general, many agreed that this may be a violation of privacy and personal data, and the Prime Minister doing too much PR on media. But at the same time they feel that if it's a good intention, it should be ok, and he should have a chance to work for the country.

Some comments from Yahoo! Answers:

Non noN: “I think it's a popular survey, as it requested a post code. So they can know which districts, which provinces, that reply back and can evaluate the situation. I personally think it's good and want to see harmony in every area of Thailand.”

Nicky: “Who get that 3 baht? Can I opt-out? My memory is nearly full. Old model.”

‘A-Mei': “I think it's too much marketing.”

Tanapon: “Yes, it's too much. But we should give him a chance, to prove himself by his work. It's better than we fighting each other.”

NH: “I think if it's a good thinking, the result will be good.”

On July 16, 2010, NACC has again postponed its ruling on the case, and did not yet set a date for the handing down of the final decision.

3 comments

  • Chumroen Benchavitvilai

    With the double standard judgment in Thailand and the power control by this government.
    There will be no way that NACC would have the negative solution against this government.
    NACC will again and again postponed its ruling on the case without any definite date to handle down the final decision.
    The winner will do no wrong.

  • richard

    Why is it that the people of Thailand are unable get on together and attempt to resolve the difficult problems instead of trying to find causes for non-cooperation and blockages to progress.
    They suffer from the international political syndrome, “negative statesmanship.”

  • Wow, reaching out to the public through text? Sounds like some pretty creative PR work to me.

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