Let’s see the junta’s exit strategy

opinion September 14, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

Bhichai is in a sharing mood, but Thailand will make no progress until democratic institutions are restored

It is high time that Thais abandoned the notion that the government is there to solve national crises. The unhappy truth is that Thai governments have never done so, instead merely relying on the promise to act in order to justify undemocratic political action.

Former Democrat Party leader Bhichai Rattakul at the weekend floated the idea of the major political parties – Democrat, Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai – forming a government with the military for the sake of national reconciliation. The veteran politician’s intentions might have been good – everyone wants to see the rift closed – but his suggestion drew a negative response. Someone else in his own party said the Democrats could not work with Pheu Thai. The Pheu Thai has made it clear it is not prepared to work with the military.

It didn’t help matters that Bhichai was contradicting his earlier proposal that the political parties pool efforts to get the military out of politics. That idea seemed more democratic at least, but it too was unviable, since the Democrats would be quite comfortable sharing Cabinet posts with the generals. (Again, the Pheu Thai would not.) Bhichai thus had a change of heart, but his suggestion that the military retain its leading role in politics is utterly counterproductive for democracy.

The military junta – the National Council for Peace and Order –cited government corruption and the violence that had overtaken the political dispute as its pretexts for staging the 2014 coup, which replaced an elected civilian government with an authoritarian regime. In the years since, the junta has produced a constitution that enshrines 

its political stature, filled the bureaucracy with officers and technocrats, and undermined worthy political institutions. It claims to be guiding the country back onto the democratic path, but its actions suggest quite the opposite. The laws it has introduced to steer Thailand’s political course tie the hands of the political parties. Dissent is stifled. Critics are jailed for demeaning the monarchy when all they’ve done is condemn military rule.

Three years on, there is still no sign of another general election. The junta seems to be perpetuating its tenure until Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha or someone else in the top brass is assured of retaining control after the poll. This is why Bhichai’s proposal, however well intentioned, sounded so ludicrous. Why suggest that the military be allowed to maintain a political role when the military has already seized and sanctified that very role?

And the military will be able to cling to that role as long as professional politicians, members of civil society and the power elite fail to regard democracy as being essential to the country’s wellbeing and progress. What they and every 

citizen should be doing is demanding an election date, along with laws assuring the parties and civil society a central role in politics. They must demand an “exit strategy” to get the military out of politics, 

and bedrock measures to keep it out. 

Again and again in the 85 years since the 1932 revolution, military intervention in politics has been harmful to the economy and ruinous to democracy. Generals are not equipped to handle fiscal matters and have no interest in individual rights and freedom of choice. These lessons have been learned in other countries. It’s time we learned 

them here.