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Thu, October 19, 2006 : Last updated 19:57 pm (Thai local time)

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Home > Politics > Academics divided over junta giving up power

Academics divided over junta giving up power

A month after the takeover, there are fears the military is in no rush to go

Tuesday's announcement that the military may be in power for an additional five months beyond its one year promise mimics a pattern of previous coup regimes - to not let go of power.

That was the conclusion from a number of academics and professionals who spoke to The Nation on developments in the first month since the coup.

They said the admission was the latest in a series of broken promises that began with a pledge to institute civilian rule - only to find a retired general put in charge.

Then there was the vow to step aside - which never happened as the Council for National Security still retains the ultimate authority.

Now, their promise to draft the new constitution within eight months and allow Thais to go to poll next October is looking shaky.

"[Worst of all] is the military's clear intent to hold on to martial law," said Chulalongkorn University's renowned historian Suthachai Yimprasert.

"It shows the generals want to maintain their tight grip of power. Martial law is a licence for security forces to violate people's basic rights. This is not a government interested in returning democracy to the country."

Law professor Worachet Phakeerut from Thammasat University said it was hard to know where to begin when discussing false promises made by the coup regime.

"I smell more of the ugly faces of authoritarianism in months to come," he said. "Some are neatly hidden in those laws and orders [issued by the coup group]. I will lay it all out in an essay I plan to release soon."

Former senator Jon Ungphakorn, like some of his liberal colleagues, last month "confessed" his support for the coup and took the coup-makers at their word that government would transfer swiftly back to democracy.

But three weeks down the track, he now says he's very disappointed with the coup, and will be joining a march this Monday to Democracy Monument and Government House that will call for the military to give power back to the people.

"The constitution drafting process left me with little faith that we will have our democracy back," Jon said. "Also, what's the point of loosening the martial law to allow people to discuss certain topics in public. This is ridiculous. Even Thaksin's supporters should be allowed to speak. It is dangerous to suppress people's freedom of expression. What will happen if they reach their boiling point?"

But Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, of Chulalongkorn University, said people should not take the interim government's shifting language, time-frames and structure as any indication that their overall commitment for democracy has changed.

"The learning curve for them is very steep, and [we] must allow them to alter course as need be to get us to where we need to go. I think the public will continue to be patient and accept such changes for the benefit of the country," the political scientist said.

But Suthachai argued that history did not favour Chaiyan's views. "This is exactly how things have played out in the past. People are quite forgiving, then all hell brakes loose. So far this regime is not showing us to be doing anything but replicating such a scenario."

Nantiya Tangwisutijit

The Nation

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