Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced his government's two-year 'success' last week at Government house. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)
When proclaiming his government’s two-year success last week, head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha seemed to focus on the wrong place.
His report on all aspects of the government’s policies and what the public can anticipate next could have been the job of a democratically-elected prime minister, not that of a coup-maker tasked with special missions.
Ascending to office through a coup d’etat, Gen Prayut’s administration should have told us what it has done to address the reasons for why the military seized power on May 22, 2014. Reconciliation and national reform were the key justifications of the coup-makers, and I doubt the NCPO has succeeded in these missions.
Gen Prayut cited violence and the need to reform the political, economic, social and other structures to justify his coup. Later on, his regime outlined policies to end political conflicts, drive the economy and restore confidence. It also affirmed the need to create stability in all areas, sustain a true democracy and engage all stakeholders.
In essence, the coup was done in the name of peace, order and stability, with reconciliation and reform standing as the tasks to be completed. As the song Gen Prayut supposedly composed goes, he “asks for only a short time — kor vela eek mai nan and he will return “happiness” to the Thai people.
Reconciliation is far from being an achievement. Gen Prayut’s reconciliation effort happened only once when he used the power of martial law to call for a meeting among those involved in the then political conflict. The talk ended up with his announcement of a coup.
Since then, the NCPO has not made any effort to iron out differences among conflicting parties. On the contrary, it has detained many of them and “taken” its critics for “attitude adjustment” in military compounds. The regime has banned political gatherings, arrested political protesters and put them on trial in military courts. Even though the NCPO’s new order last week puts an end to trying civilians in military courts, it does not retroactively apply to previous pending cases.
The NCPO’s success in maintaining peace and order is mainly the fruit of its suppression and intimidation against political dissidents, not a result of reconciliation.
The suppression of the Pheu Thai Party and the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) has been carried out through various mechanisms. Many former cabinet ministers and former members of parliament suffered retroactive impeachments and have been banned from politics for five years. The Criminal Court’s verdicts could land them a lifetime ban if they are found guilty on corruption charges.
Some may argue it is right for the regime to not reconcile with those allegedly involved in corruption. The rhetoric sounds good. But it is questionable whether the accused will receive fair trials without falling prey to the regime’s hidden agenda.
For instance, the current government is trying to cut short the judicial process of a criminal case against ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra over her government’s loss-ridden rice-pledging scheme, even though the case is still at trial in the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions. The regime is eyeing the use of its executive powers to seek reparations for the alleged damages by seizing assets of Ms Yingluck and others allegedly involved in corruption. Why don’t they let the court decide, since a verdict is expected in early 2017, only a few months away?
If Gen Prayut is sincere in aiming for sustainable peace and stability, the rule of law must be adhered to. This means a fair and transparent judicial process is required for this and other pending political cases. For example, the culprits who caused deaths of both the red-shirt and yellow-shirt protesters in the country’s decade-long political conflict must be identified and put on trial. The truth about the 2010 Wat Prathum Wanaram fatal shooting in 2010 during a crackdown on red-shirt protesters must be investigated and revealed. Light must be shed on cases involving yellow-shirt protesters’ seizure and closure of Suvarnabhumi airport and government facilities as their acts were blatant law-breaking.
As Gen Prayut has repeatedly used his sweeping powers given by Section 44 of the interim charter to get things done his own way, maybe it’s time he should put it to good use to get to the truth behind those political cases unveiled for the benefit of the courts. This government never set up a truth and reconciliation body.
Meanwhile, the regime’s reform efforts are not inclusive. When setting up the now-defunct National Reform Council and a subsequent body, the National Reform Steering Assembly, the NCPO merely wanted to maintain the coalition of those associated with the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) whose street protests eventually resulted in the toppling of the Yingluck government. Represented by those aligned with the regime, the two reform bodies merely put forward reform ideas similar to the National Economic and Social Development Board’s previous plans.
Effective reform can be achieved only when the process is inclusive and democratic. The regime’s approach to dictate future reform agenda, without the inclusion of all parties concerned, through its formulation of a so-called 20-year strategic plan will have negative consequences for the country.
Along with Gen Prayut’s announcement, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam also highlighted the government’s success in legislation through the introduction of 184 laws and 104 orders issued by the NCPO under Section 44. More laws are expected later this year. The legislation could be the seed of future conflicts as the new laws and orders were not passed by the people’s representatives in an elected parliament. The laws and orders seem to serve the interests of the bureaucracy and their business allies. The NCPO’s orders will become contentious when elected representatives gain more leverage after the next election.
Strangely, Gen Prayut said all the troubles are the result of political conflicts over the past decade. He may have forgotten another coup that toppled the Thaksin government 10 years ago yesterday, on Sept 19, 2006, had embedded the decade-long political conflict and instability. Gen Prayut still lives under that shadow of conflict which will inevitably be part of his legacy.