BANGKOK (AP) — It’s the kind of poll result you’d see in a North Korean election or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq: Thailand’s military-ruled government says 99 percent of the country’s people are happy with its performance since it took power in a coup last year.
The junta has relentlessly pursued critics, jailing them for attempting to stage protests, lighting candles or even hitting the “like” button on Facebook, yet says the poll released Tuesday shows an astonishing majority of Thais are satisfied with its performance.
The survey conducted by the government-run National Statistical Organization found that 98.9 percent of respondents were satisfied and confident in the government’s performance, said government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd. He did not disclose the format or margin of error of the survey, but said 2,700 people nationwide were polled from Nov. 27 to Dec. 4.
However, the number of respondents and dates they were polled varied depending on the government source.
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Deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak said over 7,000 people were polled earlier in December.
The statistics office that conducted the poll said 3,900 people were surveyed from Nov. 2 to 10 — and that 98.6 percent of them expressed satisfaction with the government.
There was no immediate explanation for the confusion over the sample size and results.
The Southeast Asian country has been deeply divided along political lines for a decade, and there is little sign those wounds have healed significantly since army Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha took power from an elected government in May 2014 following months of protests.
Despite the government’s claims of popularity, Prayuth acknowledged that the divide remains in a speech Tuesday summing up his administration’s accomplishments in 2015.
“It’s hard to give a speech, to create understanding, hard to send messages to people nationwide because we have differences,” he said. “In the past, we haven’t understood one another and it led to disputes. Now we have to think about how to move this country forward.”
The junta has been criticized for taking Thailand, once a beacon of democracy and freedom in Southeast Asia, backward.
According to Human Rights Watch, the junta’s rule has sent “Thailand’s human rights situation into free fall.” The junta has limited freedom of expression and assembly and curbed dissent by detaining hundreds of academics, politicians, journalists and others viewed as critics. They are sent to military bases for what it calls “attitude adjustment” and only released after signing a contract not to voice dissent.
Meanwhile, the junta has launched a campaign to boost its popularity and “return happiness” to Thailand.
As a New Year’s gift to the people, the junta chief wrote a song that was released Tuesday called, “Because You Are Thailand.”
It was Prayuth’s second such morale-boosting effort since seizing power. Shortly after the coup, he penned the lyrics to a tune called, “Returning Happiness to the People,” which is often played on state-controlled radio and TV stations.
In his speech Wednesday, Prayuth indicated that the junta was sticking to its latest plan to hold elections in mid-2017.
“We have one year and six months, if we start counting from January 2016 until (July) 2017,” Prayuth said, adding later, “I don’t want to hold on to power.”
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.