May 30, 2014 00:00 By Phochana Phichitsiri,
The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has been in control of the country for the past nine days now, and its honeymoon with the public is expected to continue for as long as it remains sensitive to their likes and dislikes.
The NCPO’s immediate denial of claims it blocked Facebook shows that it is sensitive to people’s feelings. After all, Bangkok has the highest number of Facebook users of any city, judging from the 8.68 million recorded in 2012. And for that one hour when Facebook was down on Wednesday, bloggers came out to complain bitterly. Just imagine the damage that could be done if all Facebook addicts begin protesting if this “vital” social-media platform is blocked.
Critics have also admitted that the NCPO’s decision to release five core red-shirt leaders once the seven-day detention allowed under martial law was completed on Wednesday was a wise move. The junta cannot afford to be seen as taking sides if it is to successfully bridge the national divide and dissolve political colours.
When the picture of former minister Chaturon Chaisang being escorted by armed soldiers hit the front page of every newspaper, the NCPO tried to fix the damage done to its image by broadcasting clips on how well the detainees were treated in custody. It has also come clean on how many people are actually under detention.
Last week, the junta demonstrated another example of its sensitivity to the public by making prompt payments to farmers who had been struggling over the past six months when the Yingluck Shinawatra government failed to pay for the rice they had pledged under the government’s populist policy.
The NCPO appears to have got its priorities right. Knowing that the country is in dire need of reform, it has announced that reform will be its top agenda. In order to heal the rifts and bridge the national divide, it is also planning a proactive public relations campaign at the grassroots level. It has already called on the Army’s four regional divisions to set up reconciliation centres so people with different political ideologies can be shown the other side of the coin.
Also, the junta has realised that it needs to complete the half-finished road along the Chao Phraya River, which was started by the Yingluck government to protect the capital from a repeat of the 2011 flood crisis. Hence, it has called top ministry officials to get the project going again.
When asked if development projects would go ahead without proper public hearings or research on environmental impact as no Constitution is in place to enforce these studies, the NCPO said it would have ministry officials carry out the projects in accordance with the law.
On the day NCPO chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha was granted royal endorsement, he put to rest public fears that “absolute power can absolutely corrupt”.
He won overwhelming support on social media when he said: “I must be careful in exercising power, with more power, the smaller I must be.”
Yet, that very same day, two reporters who allegedly cornered him with aggressive questions were summoned by the Army to be admonished. The two journalists wanted Prayuth to tell them if he would become a prime minister and when exactly an election would be held.
Later, well-wishers advised Prayuth to keep his cool when riding the wave of media in a democratic society that sees military rule as outdated and irrelevant.
Yet, many Thais are willing to give the Army a chance to run the country after politicians have failed to strike a compromise. Among them is Thai Ambassador to Indonesia Paskorn Siriyaphan who told the Jakarta Globe that though the power seizure by the military is wrong in principle, it is still morally correct.
“Thailand has been in a political deadlock threatening security and the well-being of Thai people for some time now,” Paskorn said.
As for the NCPO’s honeymoon with the public, it will be short-lived if it cannot live up to its promise that it is here to fix the country’s problems.