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Experts differ on how long junta should stay in power

EXPERTS differ on how long the military junta should remain in power, with some calling for the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to stay longer than a year and a half as promised.

General Ekachai Srivilas, director of the Office for Peace and Governance at King Prajadhipok's Institute (KPI), said NCPO leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha should stay on to see the promised national reforms through.

"Solving problems in Thailand requires at least 10 years, not just one, two or three years... Now is the opportunity," Ekachai said.

He was speaking at a dinner talk on national forum held to mark the 32nd anniversary of Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University's Faculty of Political Science on Tuesday.

However, guest speaker Gothom Arya, a peace expert from Mahidol University, insisted that Prayuth and the NCPO step down within the promised period to pave the way for a general election.

"Stay for a year or so," he said, adding that the NCPO's true intentions would be judged when it ensured a return to democracy and national reconciliation.

Gothom said that though he hoped the junta would be successful with its reform initiatives, he said he was not too optimistic about national reconciliation and urged the NCPO to allow space for dissenting views.

He said genuine reconciliation was not possible if those who think differently have no space to air their views.

"There should be space for everybody. They should not be threatened or forbidden from thinking like this or that because they might rise up and fight back," Gothom warned.

Noranit Setabutr, former Thammasat University rector, said it was impossible to get everybody to think alike, but the challenge should be for people to learn to coexist with those who think differently.

"Some say we must sort out the differences in our thoughts, but I don't think that can be done. We should learn to coexist with others, otherwise we will keep on fighting," Noranit said.

Retired General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who led the 2006 coup to oust Thaksin Shinawatra, said the real challenge was that many Thais did not understand the true meaning of democracy and that the poor were prone to selling their votes.

He said the only way to address the issue in the long run would be to ensure greater prosperity in rural Thailand so people will not be susceptible to selling their votes.

However, Gothom, who was also a former election commissioner, argued that while vote buying was a problem, corruption should not be used as an excuse to stage a military coup. He explained that Thailand needed to promote participatory and deliberative democracy, as well as introduce laws that could truly be applied equally.

Genuine national reform, he pointed out, could not be achieved if those who opposed the coup or thought differently about the junta did not get involved in the process.

Ekachai, meanwhile, downplayed the fear of a junta-dominated society, saying that during the reign of Indonesian dictator Suharto, 40 per cent of the country's parliamentary seats were held by military officers, but now that country was a total democracy.

Sticking to the stance that the junta should stay on, Ekachai said the junta should not be involved in making money.

"How did the samurai [in the Edo period in Japan] rule without corruption? Samurai who have power should not touch money."

Ekachai later told The Nation that for Prayuth to succeed as a prime minister, he had to be firm and persevere. The retired general, who knows Prayuth from their time at the Army, said the junta leader was a relatively open-minded person.

Prayuth is expected to be endorsed as prime minister by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly today.


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