Junta has lost its way

opinion February 04, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

The unpopular recent crackdown on democracy activists show how disconnected it is from public sentiment

This past week, a group of pro-democracy activists held a silent demonstration at the Siam Paragon shopping mall to protest against lawsuits filed against pro-democracy activists in what appeared to be an effort to silence dissenting voices.

The activists had their mouths covered with duct tape, symbolising silence imposed by the coup-installed regime and conveying that silence was not peace, but suppression. Fearing political fallout, the mall decided to close its Parc Paragon section and put up placards saying the park was private property and that the mall did not allow any activity against the law.

The idea behind the protest, it seems, was to expose the absurdity of the law and the prohibition of free speech. The protesters succeeded in doing that, facilitated partly by the failure of the authorities to understand the strategy behind such civil disobedience. The law enforcers fell into the trap of the activists and further humiliated themselves with their actions.

Their power to issue arrest warrants or even sound tough only further betrays their gullibility.

National police chief Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda told reporters that he had “some information” about suspected financiers behind the anti-junta protests.

Trying hard to sound tough and in control, Chakthip said he was not bothered by their demands and he believed it is the demonstrators who should be more concerned. Like other police chiefs before him, Chakthip lacked the smartness to understand pro-democracy activism.

Whether the junta likes it or not, there is no denying that the voices for them to return the reins of power back to the people are getting louder and louder. The military top brass that runs the country needs to come to terms with the fact that time is not on their side. And while they still have a few die-hard supporters, the majority believe it is time to move on, away from this political straitjacket. 

If the country has to move forward, we need to rethink how to clear this hurdle that stands between us and the next general election. And that means learning how to handle demonstrations, otherwise the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) will look more and more out of touch with reality by the day.

NCPO chief Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha has already declared he is now a full-fledged politician. But he can’t be a politician and continue to possess absolute control with law enforcement at his disposal, arresting whoever and whenever he wants.

He needs to keep in mind that the people the police officers are arresting at his behest will be voters when democracy is restored. The police may think they are doing their jobs and the junta chief may think that these demonstrators are not going to vote for him anyway so there is no big loss.

But Prayut needs to keep in mind that their actions can influence and shape how people think and vote. And while the NCPO thinks it is saving its own hide, unleashing the police only amounts to politicising our law-enforcement agencies.

Chakthip and the police can hide behind the law for the time being. But these men know the absurdity of the situation and they also know that there are better ways to handle the situation than using an iron fist.

Chaktip said he is going to follow the money trail. How about beginning with Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and his expensive watches? The main issue is not who is funding these pro-democracy activists because there are many who are opposed to military intervention in our national politics on ideological grounds or for political reasons.

The NCPO will find itself deeper in the hole if it continues on its current course. The best scenario would be for it to announce a clear date for the next general election and then stick to it.

Even better, they must categorically tell the public that under no circumstances will they return to national politics because it would be unfair, as they were the ones who wrote the rules, and tilted them in their favour.