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

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Home > Politics > Martial law only eased slightly

Martial law only eased slightly

Interim regime fears Thai Rak Thai may regroup, so political meetings will be allowed, but not rallies

The Council for National Security (CNS) and Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont have so far deflected calls from the local and international community for martial law to be lifted.

Instead, they have a different idea. They plan to lift a ban on political gatherings of five or more people - a move which Surayud said on Tuesday would encourage public participation in decision making.

With only "constructive debates" being allowed, however, the lifting of the ban will practically make no difference in terms of civil rights and freedom of expression - which had been curtailed since the smooth-as-silk coup on September 19.

Surayud said his government wanted to solicit views on drafting of the new charter, the revamping of the justice system and enhancement of the education system to incorporate ethical values.

But he warned that mass protests were still prohibited and any party or civic activities could only be held in private venues such as a university auditorium or convention centre.

While the ban on political gatherings has eased, the Surayud administration still insists that martial law should be retained to prevent any attempt to provoke confusion, as certain groups of people were trying to abuse the government's lenient stance by putting pressure on it.

The new government aims to prevent a possible regroup of Thai Rak Thai supporters still loyal to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Should the Thai people show their "gratitude" for being allowed such room for expression, though? Of course not.

Surayud, backed by the most powerful ruling body, the CNS, only wants to hear good news and witness a smooth transition to democracy. So, nothing can guarantee safety for those who are against the new rulers and question their intention to retain power "only as long as necessary".

In fact, the ban on political gatherings of five or more people had been violated several times, as some political activists held anti-coup meetings in universities or public venues.

They were not arrested because they made no impact on the balance of power, and the junta had already tightened its grip.

The world was, and is, watching Thailand's political landscape closely. The United States and the European Union in particular have pressured the junta to hold a general election, which would lead to an elected government, in the near future.

Arrests could ruin the image of the junta, which has desperately attempted to convince the world the coup is nothing but a new style of political reform to end a long-lasting conflict that was tearing the country apart.

Hence, when Surayud announced the easing of the ban on political assemblies, he aimed mainly to build legitimacy for his government. Nobody will actually be granted the freedom of expression they used to enjoy.

Weerayut Chokchaimadon

 The Nation

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