The junta has failed to deliver on reforms or democratisation and seems to be preoccupied in entrenching itself
ALTHOUGH the military seized power in 2014 through a coup, the junta has done little to reform the country as promised and only tried to entrench itself to perpetuate its rule.
In its four years – equivalent to the term of an elected government – it has turned Thailand into a bureaucratic polity with the military playing a vital role in weakening the power of politicians and other political institutions, scholars said. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), led by Prayut Chan-o-cha, is the military junta with the longest reign in recent Thai political history. There were also junta governments in 1991 and 2006 following coups but they were in power for only a year or so.
Serious divisions among the civilians, the unity of the military, the junta’s iron fist as well as “populist policies” – known in the junta’s lexicon as “happiness” to cosy up to the people – has enabled the current military dispensation to survive in power for the past four years.
“The coup has changed the country’s political landscape. The military has laid deep foundations to retain power in the future through its 20-year national strategic plan,” said Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.
After the coup, political power was transferred from politicians to the military and the bureaucracy, he said.
The NCPO commissioned the military to perform a dual function – protect national security and promote development – said Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University. “Undeniably, it would enhance the political role of the military,” he said.
However, military power alone would not enable the survival of the junta for long unless it also has strong support from big corporations, which dominate the Thai economy.
The military has enjoyed increased acceptance from big businesses, says Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University. “When they are doing well in their businesses, getting wealthier or getting benefits facilitated by government policies like Pracha Rath, it is no surprise that they support [the military],” he points out.
Pracha Rath is a public-private partnership project initiated by the government with the aim of boosting the economy and the incomes of local communities throughout the Kingdom.
The military rule is damaging, instead of building Thailand. The worst damage the junta has done is by voiding democracy, violating human rights with legal impunity, and weakening institutions that have the role of guaranteeing accountability and transparency in Thailand, said Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University. Moreover, the defence budget has soared while other ministry budgets have seen cuts, he said.
The military regime is opaque. The junta has been widely criticised for its failure to crack down on corruption. Members of this junta leadership have failed to declare unusual wealth, such as the case of number two leader Prawit Wongsuwan and his numerous luxury watches.
Other potential cases of corruption have also been hidden under the rug such as that of the Chan-o-cha clan. “Junta leaders can get away with malfeasance because there is no monitor to oversee the junta leaders,” Chambers said.
However, the regime in its current form cannot cling on, as the demand for an election is growing. Scholars who spoke to The Nation foresaw many possibilities of the junta retaining power after the poll, which they said would be a way to legitimise military power, rather than democratisation.
Many politicians who put their personal interests ahead of democracy would support Prayut retaining power, Titipol predicted.
Prayut, like junta leaders before him is trying to transform the NCPO organisation into a political party, said Chambers. This new military political party model follows the Myanmar military model – to stand behind a political party nominee but also to oust elected governments if need be, he said.
Prayut, last November, invoked his sweeping powers under Section 44 to amend the internal security legislation.
He set up the Internal Security Administration Committee to help the Internal Security Operation Command deal with domestic threats. The move is seen as politically motivated to expand Isoc’s or the Army’s fundamental power in the provinces as it will set up provincial internal security administration committees.
The Isoc will play a vital role in the upcoming election campaign, Wanwichit said. Under the new structure, the agency, which he said would act as the military’s representatives, would be able to monitor intelligence, political movements, and the popularity of political parties as well as talk to civil society and villagers to see whether there would be any threats. “The party [if set up] would maintain the NCPO’s ideology and political boundaries indefinitely, with the Isoc playing a ‘mentor’ role to foster it,” he added.
Note: General Prayut Chan-o-cha staged a coup four years ago to topple an elected government| on the pretext of bringing about reforms and cleaning up the political system. The Nation |presents a series of analyses on the consequences of the coup and the rule of the military regime.