AS POLITICS in the country got a shot in the arm after the junta lifted restrictions on political activities yesterday, critics called for an end to all legal actions against protesters, arguing that the partial repeal of the ban kept intact ongoing legal cases stemming from previous junta orders.
The critics cautioned that the latest order issued yesterday by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) would not prevent dissidents from getting arrested and placed in military custody.
“Don’t be fooled! Public assembly and political activity may be allowed, but the junta still bans criticism and dissenting opinion,” Human Rights Watch senior researcher Sunai Phasuk said in his Twitter message. “Dissidents can be arrested and taken into military custody anytime. General Prayut wields unchecked power with impunity. Thailand isn’t on the path to democracy,” he added.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as the junta head, issued NCPO Order No 22/2018 yesterday to partly repeal nine of the junta’s orders and announcements issued after the 2014 military coup.
The post-coup orders included a ban on the political gathering of five or more people while another order prohibited political parties from convening meetings, holding political activities, campaigning for voter support, or setting up party branches.
The latest NCPO order was published in the Royal Gazette yesterday, and took immediate effect. Yesterday, the new law on MP elections also came into effect.
The partial repeal also led to the unfreezing of bank accounts belonging to certain politicians critical of the junta, including Chaturon Chaisang, Sombat Boonngamanong and Prasit Chaisrisa.
Also repealed was NCPO Order No 80/2014, which prohibited 18 politicians – mainly from the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties – from leaving the country without permission, or engaging in any political activity.
However, a clause in the order states that the repeal does not affect the ongoing legal cases or previous actions carried out in accordance with the orders and announcements.
Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, secretary-general of the Future Forward Party, said yesterday that while the latest NCPO order “unlocked” restrictions for political parties, “people who love the country and democracy are still chained”, due to the ongoing legal cases stemming from the junta orders. Many anti-junta protesters were arrested and faced legal action for violating the NCPO’s orders and announcements. Several cases are still ongoing.
A former law lecturer, Piyabutr said that in principle when a law is repealed all legal cases stemming from that law must be terminated as a result. “The NCPO’s lawyers were well aware of this fact. That’s why they intentionally added a clause exempting the ongoing legal cases,” he said. This reflected the junta’s view that those “democracy lovers” are their opponents, who needed to be “chastened”, said the academic-turned-politician.
In Thailand, orders and announcements issued by coup-makers and subsequent juntas are regarded as laws.
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, meanwhile, yesterday congratulated Thai citizens for “partially getting back their basic rights snatched by the NCPO almost five years ago”. Thaksin, who has been on self-imposed exile overseas since 2008, said in his Facebook message the junta was forced to lift the political restrictions. “It’s not their kindness to us,” he added.
The NCPO yesterday called on political parties to be involved in “constructive” activities following the lifting of the restrictions, spokesperson Colonel Sirichan Ngathong said.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said yesterday’s lifting of political restrictions allowed parties to immediately resume their political activities, even before a Royal Decree announcing the election date is issued.
Following the lifting of the ban, political parties yesterday immediately became active and reviewed campaign plans for the upcoming election. A member of the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party, Sira Jenjaka, erected a campaign billboard on Chaeng Wattana Road introducing himself, literally 30 minutes after the junta order was issued yesterday.
Future Forward spokesperson Pannika Wanich, meanwhile, revealed that the party was lining up major events this month.
Starting this Sunday, she said, the party will hold an event entitled “Showing the Vision, Changing the Future,” to announce its key policies for the electoral campaign.