With the initial phase of its work done, the hard business of reform and rearranging the electoral system is set to begin
If the “honeymoon” is not over already, it must be at the stage when the National Council for Peace and Order and the Thai people are taking their trip back home – to biting realities. The declaration of an interim charter, the prosecution of ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the imminent formation of an interim Cabinet, Parliament and a constitution-drafting committee are seriously testing the awkward relationship that sceptics have always doubted would last very long.
The interim charter is not very pleasant, but those who “understand the motives” have not stuck their necks out to say this yet. It gives the NCPO a lot of powers in administering the country even after the formation of an interim Cabinet, and in drafting a permanent constitution. Whether the NCPO was doing what it had to do does not matter much now.
At the end of a honeymoon, complaints normally take precedence over sweet words.
What happens to Yingluck will be closely watched. Accusing her of turning a blind eye to corruption is one thing; implicating her in graft and thus making her face imprisonment is another. The Supreme Court’s political division will have a final say on her fate, but the bulk of compliments or criticism will fall on the NCPO when the final verdict comes. Whatever happens will be tricky, and a lot will depend on it, not least the chance to ease national strife and achieve real reform.
Talking about reform, critics have already sharpened their knives because the interim charter seems to give the NCPO a big say on selecting people who matter. Nominations will be scrutinised and reform proposals will be put under a microscope. Resetting Thailand and bringing back good political ethics and national harmony are a tough goal that virtually all elected politicians fail to reach.
Can coup-makers do it? Many critics are not optimistic.
The NCPO’s heavy-handed handling of the media has prompted outcries from professional umbrella groups. The junta has alternated between getting tough, testing the water and pulling back. What is certain is that it has not won many friends. This is an era where freedom of information and expression is cherished, so every hint or threat of a clampdown will always spark an uproar.
The next few weeks are very critical as far as the NCPO is concerned. Criticism has been expected, but what the junta is experiencing now will be nothing compared to what it will face if the reform process is perceived to be prejudiced or lukewarm. The uneasy relationship with a big portion of the public, specifically those who “understand” the coup, could unravel at the first signs of insincerity.
NCPO leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s “Give us a chance” song was beautiful on first hearing it, but now he has to walk the talk or the song will fast lose its magic. He has navigated the West’s storms of protest, but a lot harder task is preventing the public’s patience from reaching its limits. After all, what the song asks for – patience – is politics’ rarest commodity.
Prayuth needs to be sincere, tolerant, open-minded and effective. Some may suggest that good advisers are needed, too. But if he can be all four, the rest should take care of itself. Based on his roadmap, it seems time is still on his side. But if we consider the honeymoon to be over or nearly over, the clock could start ticking any time.