Military steadying the ship but wary of deep reforms

opinion June 06, 2014 00:00

By Thanong Khanthong

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We have been able to muddle through after the military coup. As yet, the sky has not fallen on our heads. In fact, the majority of Thais appear to support the coup. This is crucial.

So far the situation remains calm. Strangely enough, foreign nations are more concerned about the coup than the Thai people themselves. The US has demanded that we hold a fresh election as soon as possible. France has strongly condemned the power seizure. The UK has suspended military cooperation with Thailand and Australia has banned Thai military leaders from entering its country. On the other hand, China and Russia have been more reserved, hinting that outsiders should not interfere in what is an internal affair.
King Prachadipok told the New York Times in the 1930s that the best political system was the one favoured by the people of the country. In other words, only Thais know what system is best for them. As such, other nations should not undertake to provide a prescription for the Thai crisis, which is complicated, complex and deep-rooted, and cannot be resolved by an early election. In due course, the crisis will come to an end, Thailand will learn from its past mistakes and then be able to move forward again with a clear goal and at its own pace.
It might be too early to judge the intentions of the military regime led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha. I get the sense that the military will not take any drastic steps towards reform to put our house in order once and for all. Rather, the regime sees its role as a narrower one – mediating the conflict between those who oppose ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and those who support him. That’s why we are seeing the military attempt national reconciliation without going after those who have wreaked havoc on the country in the past few years. Key leaders from both sides of the political spectrum have been summoned to Army headquarters for advice and questioning. It sounds more like a pat on the shoulder. This is not the way to resolve a political crisis that has lasted 10 years and inspired two coups – on September 19, 2006, and May 22, 2014. The political conflict will reappear once the military washes its hands of power and organises a fresh election in the next 15 months or so.
In the meantime, the military regime is settling in to the awkward task of managing the economy while at the same time drawing up another provisional Constitution, setting up a provisional government, forming a legislative body and finally appointing a reform council. What this provisional government can accomplish over the next 15 months remains in doubt, given the depth of a crisis that many still prefer to sweep under the carpet. Nonetheless, investors have flocked back to the stock market, at one point pushing the SET index to a seven-month high. They have been reassured that the military regime has maintained most of the populist policies of the Yingluck government – the rice policy, the mega-projects, the 7 per cent VAT, energy subsidy, the Bt200-billion budget deficit to stimulate expenditure. Moody’s Investors Service has refrained from downgrading Thailand’s credit rating.
Su Lim, an economist at HSBC, was correct in her analysis on CNBC: “I am encouraged by how the National Council for Peace and Order has moved quickly to get Thailand’s economic house in order. They [the junta] are not moving mountains on the economy, but they are turning on taps that had been turned off because of the political crisis.”
That is exactly the case. The military regime is not embarking on structural reform but is simply moving in to turn on taps that have been turned off. By doing so, it is only interested in defusing the crisis temporarily so as to signal to everyone that the Thai party continues. But for how long?