Public embraces junta

national June 23, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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NCPO's second month in power begins with goodwill as it now tackles long-term issues

A MONTH AFTER the May 22 coup, the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has managed to win widespread public approval as its short-term measures and policies have borne fruit and are evidence of tangible results for many people.

The junta appears to have won the hearts and minds of different groups with essentially populist policies that aim to “return happiness to the people”, although NCPO chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has said he opposes “making people choke with populist policies”.

Some 800,000 rice farmers were quickly paid the Bt90 billion owed to them by the ousted government, while live broadcasts of all World Cup football matches on free-to-air TV have also proved a hit.

Many people are satisfied with the absence of street protests and political violence that continued for several months before the coup. Others are happy with the NCPO’s crackdown on weapons.

The ruling NCPO is now turning its attention to tackling many problems left unsolved for a long time, such as mafia activities, illegal gambling and corruption. It will be tested by more difficult tasks, including bringing about reconciliation between rival political groups involved in deadly conflict over the past decade.

The first month in power is part of the “honeymoon period” usually enjoyed by every new administration. The junta has been able to make quick decisions due to an absence of opposition. Only time will tell whether its perceived successes today will lead to sustainable changes and improvements in the long run.

The latest public opinion polls have shown a high approval rating for the NCPO. A survey by Suan Dusit Poll gave it a score of 8.82 out of 10 on its one-month performance after seizing power.

A poll by the National Institute of Development Administration found that more than 41 per cent of respondents nationwide want the NCPO chief to become the next prime minister.

On the economic front, consumer and business confidence is up as is investment, amid signs of political stability. Tourism, however, has yet to recover. Despite the apparent optimism, academics say a lot more needs to be done to push for successful reforms.


End of bloodshed

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Chaiyan Chaiyaporn gave credit to the NCPO for stopping the violence and ending confrontations between the opposing political sides. The decision was brave because anti-coup sentiment was stronger than it was in 2006 when the military staged its last coup, he said.

Chaiyan noted that the NCPO could effectively stop political confrontation. Its crackdown on weapons could also end political violence.

However, more needed to be done to achieve real reform.

“It is now a good time for reforms in many aspects,” he said.

Pirongrong Ramasoota Rananand, from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Communication Arts, said the past month was a honeymoon for coup supporters and a nightmare for its opponents.

One month might be too soon for an evaluation and the junta must think about the consequences of its conduct, she said.

Short-term measures taken by the junta might become a burden for elected governments in the future, she warned.

The junta also should think about human rights, she said, as people who oppose the coup have not expressed so in public but instead vent their anger on social media and with family and friends. The longer they are oppressed by the coup, the more their dissatisfaction will increase.

“Sooner or later, you [the junta] have to open up common space for the people. Space doesn't mean instigation. It means catharsis where people can release tension,” she said.

Other academics urged the NCPO to take this chance to put Thai society in order. They noted that over the past month, the junta obviously zeroed in on some chronic problems, such as drug trafficking and illegal taxi activities.

Sukhum Chaleysab, from Suan Dusit Rajabhat University, said previous governments had failed to solve these problems and their solutions were hampered by the fact that those behind such vices were politicians.

“The NCPO should make sure that the mafia figures are punished, even if they have connections with politicians or men in uniform,” he said.

Sukhum, who is in charge of the Suan Dusit Poll, said that the latest opinion survey showed that the NCPO’s five most impressive actions were repaying farmer debts under the rice-pledging scheme; the crackdown on illegal weapons, drugs, gambling and influential figures; the reduction of the cost of living, including capping gas and oil prices; the investigation into the transparency of state enterprise boards; and structural reform of the energy sector.

On the international front, foreign countries have evaluated the May 22 coup and the junta’s actions in two ways.

Western countries mostly regard the coup as violation to the principles of democracy and human rights. They have demanded that the junta restore democracy.

No love from the West

The United States, the European Union and Australia imposed sanctions that suspended military aid and military cooperation with Thailand.

International organisations and many rights groups have expressed grave concern over the detention and arrest of politicians, activists and academics under martial law. They urged the junta to conduct prosecutions with transparency and respect for fundamental rights.

Most Asian countries, however, have been more supportive. Some Asean diplomats told Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow that their countries will continue relations and cooperation with Thailand as usual.

One Asean diplomat said the junta had done many good things over the past month.

“Payment to farmers in the rice-pledging scheme is a smart policy to win the hearts and minds of people in the lower class who are strong supporters of the previous government,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Diplomats and representatives of foreign countries in Thailand have kept a close eye on the junta’s economic policies to see whether it will change foreign concessions in Thailand, the diplomat said.

As long as the junta stresses that it is business as usual, many countries could support its reform efforts, he said.

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