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An audacious move that might just work

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of the National Council for Peace and Order, has formed a 10-member advisory committee to help him run the country during this transition from the post-coup period.

At first glance the advisory committee looks like a collection of antique exhibits in the National Museum. Yet on closer examination, it represents the coup leader's attempt to play a delicate balancing act. More importantly, it also shows who's really in charge.

Generals Prawit Wongsuwan and Anupong Paochinda have been appointed chairman and deputy chairman of the advisory committee, which will oversee virtually every aspect of the country's governance. Prawit, Anupong and Prayuth have emerged as the trio in whose hands the nation's power is concentrated.

The advisory committee will serve as the main policy-making body, reporting directly to Prayuth. It is designed to win back a degree of confidence both at home and abroad, though its members will be focusing more on managing national security, political and social stability than going for economic prosperity. I believe that Prayuth will devote about 70 per cent of his effort to managing security and political stability, with the remaining 30 per cent going to economic policy - at least in the immediate term.

Other members of the committee include MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, Dr Somkid Jatusripitak, Dr Narongchai Arkasanee and Dr Wissanu Krea-Ngam. Pridiyathorn will take charge as economy tsar, while Dr Somkid has been entrusted with overseeing commerce and foreign affairs and Dr Narongchai with fiscal and monetary policy management. Dr Wissanu Krea-ngam will look after legal affairs. These personalities represent a mixed bag made up of remnants of the past Thaksin regime and other administrations. For the moment at least, they will help provide an unbroken link in Thailand's commitment to the international order, staving off fears that the country might shift to an inward-looking policy.

Another tactical play by the military was to release leading red-shirt backers of the previous Yingluck administration and "Thaksin regime" after holding them hostage for a couple of days in military camps around the country. In doing so, General Prayuth was seeking to quell resistance to his seizure of power. Though there have been pockets of protest against the coup, they have posed no real threat to the new military administration. While in detention, the key red-shirt leaders and Thaksin loyalists will have received a stern warning that any attempt to rock the boat again would be met with decisive action. At the same time, the military has launched a nationwide crackdown on red-shirt militia who have stored heavy weapons and ammunition used in previous political violence. These red-shirt cells should be wiped out soon.

It will be interesting to see how the Prawit-Anupong-Prayuth trio goes about bringing law and order back to Thailand and putting the country on the path to reform. So far, contrary to the picture being projected by foreign media, the coup has received rather broad support from the Thai public. Many had become sick and tired of corrupt politicians camouflaging themselves with the cloak of democracy. Though they might not like the coup, they see it as a necessary evil in eradicating the hand of the Thaksin regime once and for all from Thailand. Only when this is accomplished can the country return to the normal democratic path.

Thaksin is lying low, ready to strike back. But the problem is that members of his family remain in Thailand and subject to the threat of detention. He is completely routed. General Prayuth's next task is to gain international recognition of his transitional regime's legitimacy. So far the US and France have strongly condemned the coup, while the UK has announced it is postponing military cooperation with Thailand. But China and Russia have been more friendly, indicating their unwillingness to interfere in Thai domestic affairs.

Seizing power is easy, but managing and maintaining the machinery of state is another matter. If Prayuth sets his sights on tackling the roots of the Thai crisis and managing the country for the benefit of its people, chances are that his audacious seizure of power will turn out to be a success. The masses support these aims. Right now they have given him the opportunity to lead the country towards solutions for the political divisions and all the problems accumulated over the past 10 years. But if the power seizure is exploited for his own or his associates' interests then he will face resistance further down the road. The task is to avoid the private temptations that come with power, and use it for the public benefit.


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