Credibility of the junta and the anti-corruption agency are at stake
It has been the butt of jokes for some time now as everybody from newspaper columnists to social media surfers mock Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan about his expensive watches.
The end seems nowhere in sight. Part of what’s keeping this issue alive is Prawit himself with his bizarre explanation of borrowing this array of undeclared luxury timepieces from friends, and the government’s unwillingness to take definite measures about it.
The public has ridiculed his explanation.
The revelations are so damaging that some observers believe the incident could trigger the junta’s downfall or at the least jeopardise Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s chances of returning to Government House.
But Prawit’s case is a tough nut to crack. After all, he was one of the chief architects of the 2014 coup that put him and Prayut in power, where they were able to lay down new ground rules, write a new Constitution, and tilt it in the military’s favour.
Not only do these measures allow Prayut to return as premier as an “outsider” – someone who is above the country’s gutter politics which the junta has blamed for just about everything – the new Constitution pretty much cemented the military’s place in national politics. In short, he is indispensable.
And this band of “brothers”, like the military cliques of the past, has closed ranks and ignored calls for action in the Prawit case.
But something has to give. The junta can’t have the cake and eat it too. When they came to power, the junta decided to present themselves as the knights in shining armour coming to rescue Thailand from corrupt politicians, while being dictators with no accountability to law.
Most Thais did not buy the junta’s claims; they just wanted the decade-long political crisis to end.
But the junta was been hit by one scandal after another. The watch saga, however, was just too exotic for the government’s critics to let go. Certainly, it gave political activist Ekachai Hongkangwan the much-needed ammunition to carry out his public relations stunts; he has tried to ambush Prawit several times to present him cheap watches.
“If you can’t keep track of the time, there’s no point in wearing expensive watches!” hollered Ekachai, as he was being dragged away by security.
The case of Prawit’s luxury watches has been brought to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). Needless to say, this is a moment of truth for Thailand: will law and order prevail or will the NACC, whose members are appointed by the junta, remain loyal to their political masters? The anti-graft body has called on the media to “wait for all the facts”. But in this day and age of breaking news, people want answers now.
The NACC faces a challenge of credibility. If they find him guilty and remove him from office, it would restore faith that the rule of law in the country does prevail. But no one is holding his or her breath for that to happen.
Perhaps the NCPO should step back and look at the situation from a broader perspective. Perhaps the angst is not so much about these undeclared expensive watches but more about the restlessness of the people and the country’s desire to move on.
The people want their power back and these watches are just the excuse they needed to send the message to the junta that it is time for them to go.