The junta’s pre-election manoeuvres feel increasingly desperate – and ludicrous
The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the ruling military junta, recently hosted a gathering for political parties. It was hoping to draw representatives of more than 100 parties to outline their platforms ahead of the election scheduled for February. Interestingly, among the major political parties declining to participate were the Democrats, whom the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra camp accuses of being on the military’s side.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta chief who came to power in a coup four years ago, chaired the assembly. Prayut still tends to portray himself as the self-sacrificing white knight who staged the coup to restore order and end the bloody ideological chaos. With the election looming, though, he is of course as much a stakeholder in current events as anyone. The premier shares that traditional trait of the Thai military in believing he has the moral authority to bring about and preserve peace.
The coup did indeed halt the political crisis that took lives and crippled the economy, but there are ample signs now that it merely postponed street battles still to be waged. Judging from the bitter rhetoric exchanged across the political divide, we as a nation have moved on not a bit.
The Army stepped in to restore order but soon outlived its usefulness. The junta has repeatedly depicted itself as arbiter, a referee doing a thankless job, forced to act because of rampant corruption and volatile politicking. It has sought public support with a series of populist schemes. The military fails to understand that, no matter how deep the gutter our politicians choose to occupy, it is not the soldier’s place to interfere with the democratic process. The mechanisms enshrined in the constitution to protect citizens’ freedoms must be allowed to function. It’s the only way we can progress as a society.
If anything, the junta’s attempt to “referee” the gathering of political parties was purely pretentious. Ever the broken record, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan had the gall to call the boycotting parties “troublemakers”. In fact, shunning a meeting organised by the NCPO was not so much making trouble as it was pure political manoeuvring, a tactic not taught at officer training school. If they don’t understand how the game is played, we can only wonder how the junta will fare if it manages to retain power after the election and faces a mandated formal opposition. The junta also blundered merely in calling the meeting. Organising such a session was rightly the job of the Election Commission, not the military-led government.
The junta came to power presenting credentials to resolve the political crisis, but it quickly became clear that the generals were seeking to cement their own place in politics. It is startling how little the NCPO now mentions the once-vaunted reforms it planned. The focus today is entirely on which political party or parties will secure Prayut’s continued role as premier.
When the junta began playing politics rather than adhering to the role of restoring order in the streets, it was automatically disqualified as an honest broker. This is not to say it was qualified to do so or had the moral authority or capability in the first place. The Army just thought it alone could save the country. In this respect, the generals have been wrong all along.