Hospital blast exposes junta’s frailty

opinion May 24, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

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If the generals were more tolerant of dissent, perhaps we’d see fewer violent expressions of umbrage



The bomb attack this past Monday at Bangkok’s Phramongkutklao Hospital that left at least 20 people injured must be condemned in the strongest terms. It was a cowardly, inhuman act of terror. The fact that the Army operates the hospital, which is frequented by retired officers, in no way justifies the attack. It was a gross violation of international practices and humanitarian laws and principle.

The blast area covered about three metres. It appears that the perpetrators placed the bomb in an open area near the entrance of the hospital dispensary. No one has claimed responsibility, as is normal with political violence here, 

particularly when it coincides with an anniversary of note.

Monday’s attack came on the third anniversary of the 2014 coup that brought the Army-led National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to power. From this it can be surmised that the bomb was a venting of anger against the military and the ruling junta. Most of the damage was done to the Wongsuwan Room reserved for VIP patients and guests. The room bears the family name of General Prawit Wongsuwan, who, as Defence Minister, is in charge of the country’s security.

Deputy police chief Pol General Srivara  Ransibrahmanakul savaged the perpetrators, saying not even the Malay insurgents in the far South carry out attacks on hospitals. To this, Angkhana Neelaphaijit of the National Human Rights Commission added that hospitals and medical workers are usually safe from such dangers even in wartime.

The assault came as the NCPO strives to convince the public that its three years in power have not been wasted. The timing and target of the bomb attack could not have been worse for the generals. 

It raises concerns about the junta’s ability to keep innocent civilians and public places safe. It was also the third bomb attack in Bangkok within two months, following the one in front of the National Theatre last week and the April 5 attack on the Government Lottery Office. 

Not helping matters is the top brass’ insistence that the same 

perpetrators are behind all three incidents. The assumption comes too soon after the most recent event to be credible, and it could hamper the investigation.

Regardless of the motivation behind Monday’s attack and the fact that no one was killed, the perpetrators obviously had no qualms about using the safety of innocent people as a bargaining chip to advance their agenda, whatever it may be. If they have an axe to grind with the military, this is certainly not the way to wield it. 

Meanwhile the NCPO needs to relax its grip on dissent so that grievances can be aired openly instead of festering in secret with potentially explosive results. Instead, for three years we have seen the junta steadily increasing pressure on critics and sealing off outlets for debate. It has created an atmosphere that is toxic to political discussion and thus prone to desperate expressions of frustration. How can anyone feel safe under such circumstances?

The irony this week is lost on no one. The junta justified its 2014 coup by saying that order had to be restored after a decade of politically motivated violence. And yet Thailand remains dangerously polarised and, in spasms at 

least, disorderly. The junta must acknowledge as much and share in the blame.