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Reforms cause a stir

Some welcome junta's changes, others accuse it of overstepping its role

NATIONAL POLICE reforms introduced by the National Council for Peace and Order have already started creating ripples spreading far and wide, and also in the political arena.

Though several senior police officers and academics have welcomed the NCPO's latest announcement on changes to the police force, politicians have been expressing concern. The changes, after all, look set to diminish political office holders' role and influence in the police.

Under the reforms, it will be the national police chief, not the prime minister, who names the man for the top police job.

Also, a fairer seniority system will come into play during the nomination process.

"I think this is a good start to overhaul the Royal Thai Police. It's the first step of the change that will ensure the Royal Thai Police really belongs to the people," Deputy National Police Commissioner General Aek Angsananont said yesterday, referring to the announcements made on Monday night.

He said he certainly agreed with the new rule that allows the national police chief to nominate his successor.

"The Royal Thai Police must be free from political interference," he said.

Over the past many years, angry protesters have often complained that police served certain political office holders as even the man at the top of the Royal Thai Police could lose his post at the whim of the prime minister.

Political office holders like the justice and interior ministers had long sat on the National Police Policy Commission, which oversees reshuffling and promotions in the police ranks.

The NCPO has already addressed these issues. Under the new set-up, the prime minister will no longer be allowed to nominate a new police chief, while the justice and interior ministers will no longer be part of the National Police Policy Commission.

Commenting on the ongoing police reform, acting national police chief General Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit yesterday said he wanted to thank NCPO chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

"Thank you for giving police chiefs the mandate to punish and reward their subordinates" based on their merit, Watcharapol said.

Assistant Professor Panadda Chumnansook, a Kasetsart University lecturer who has been conducting studies on the police force, said the NCPO's announcement was good because it would eradicate political meddling.

While no politician has openly lamented about politicians' diminishing influence over the police force, some have already complained about the NCPO's latest moves.

Pheu Thai member and former MP Somkid Chua-kong said yesterday that he disagreed with the ruling junta's intervention in police affairs.

"Please respect the police force," he said.

He even encouraged police officers to speak up against the NCPO if they did not agree with its latest moves.

"Don't stay silent. You have already lost some of your rights.

"You must do something now or else the military will overstep in other areas too," Somkid said.

Atthawit Suwannapakdee, a former Democrat MP, said he believed the NCPO had staged a politicians' reform - not police reforms.

"Police will become more powerful, while politicians go the other way," he said.

Atthawit said this meant that even if the NCPO's latest moves were successful in curbing the central government's influence over the police force, there was a risk of a police state materialising.

Some middle-ranking police officers also voiced concern about the new promotion criteria.

"What if the more senior guys aren't as dedicated as the junior ones? Some policemen may simply take their jobs for granted because as they grow old, they will |be automatically promoted," a police colonel at the Special Branch Police Division said.

But Panadda said the NCPO's moves also facilitated decentralisation and thus should improve human-resource management within the Royal Thai Police. He expects civilians to benefit in the end too. "When police have good morale, their performance should improve as well," he said.

The only question he has about the NCPO's latest move is making the permanent secretary for Defence an ex-officio member of the National Police Policy Commission.

"I'm surprised about this. On the bright side, the permanent secretary for Defence is there to promote coordination between the police and military forces. But on the other hand, the move could be seen as a [military] intervention," he said.



Those next in line

FIVE police generals qualify as candidates to succeed Pol Gen Adul Saengsingkaew in October.

Ranked according to seniority, they are deputy police chiefs Aek Angsananont, Pongsapat Pongcharoen; Somyot Poompanmoung and Worapong Chewprecha. The other candidate is Royal Thai Police InspectorGeneral Chalermkiat Srivorakan.

Deputy police chiefs Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit who is the caretaker police chief and Rachata Yensuang are due to retire in September, while Chatchawal Suksomjit has been appointed directorgeneral of the Department of Special Investigation.


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