The military regime in Thailand continues to attract criticisms even from international experts invited to speak at a recent junta-supervised event attended by foreign diplomats in Bangkok. Many Thais also share the same concerns, although they are forbidden from expressing critical views. Further, as reminded this week by the Wall Street Journal, the regime's ongoing attempts to prevent former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies from taking power again even if they win elections will only destroy the possibility of any consensus building within the Thai society.
Such climate can only hampers the quality, if any, of the constitutional making process that is underway; the result of which is likely to generate further political conflicts despite the outcome of 2016 election promised by the regime.
Martial law has brought calm but not peace to Thailand’s febrile politics. The military regime’s stifling of dissent precludes a frank dialogue on the kingdom’s future and could lead to greater turmoil than that which brought about the May 2014 coup.
Key findings and recommendations:
The 22 May coup demonstrated the failure of the 2006 coup and subsequent governments to address the factors underpinning Thailand’s protracted conflict. More than ever, the society is riven across regional, ethnic and quasi-ideological lines, by deep income inequality and by a difficult relationship between Bangkok and its peripheries.
At the heart of the turmoil is not only a political struggle but disagreement over what constitutes legitimate authority, with some regarding the popular ballot as paramount and others regarding majoritarianism as another form of tyranny, requiring strong checks and balances by the establishment. In the background, a looming royal succession – prohibited by law from being discussed – adds to the uncertainty.
To achieve its stated goal of establishing a durable democracy, the NCPO must encourage the development of a national dialogue, provide for meaningful political participation of all and reach out particularly to those in the North and North East who believe they have been serially disenfranchised by the Bangkok establishment. Failure to do so risks an eventual clash between the army and protesters, such as those that resulted from the 1991 and 2006 coups.
The two top generals of the junta running Thailand on Wednesday defended the May 22 coup that ousted the civilian government but told international audiences in Bangkok they are committed to a return to democracy.
Unlike previous military coups in Thailand, which have been followed by the appointment of a civilian government and fresh elections, the country’s new strongman is playing a more worrying game. The 36-member committee appointed by the junta in November appears to be to prevent allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from taking power again, even if they take elections.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has defended the government's decision to block the website of the Thai branch of Human Rights Watch, saying the page has been barred because it breached rules on national security.
While the military government has succeeded in stabilizing the economy, the growth momentum is still weak. Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific Chief Economist at the analytics firm HIS stated in an interview with Deutsche Welle: ‘Thailand faces an increasingly competitive regional landscape in ASEAN…Therefore, if Thailand pursues more protectionist policies that increase the hurdles for foreign businesses”.
The author comments that major Thai banks are following Thai companies in focusing on neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam for investment. "Expanding in foreign markets where we are not familiar has some risks. But if our clients go first and we follow them, this will help reduce some risks" said the executive vice president of Bangkok Bank.
May's coup has only stemmed the bleeding caused by months of political turmoil as Thailand is set to remain the slowest-growing economy in Southeast Asia through 2016. Early drafts of the military’s plan for returning power to civilians suggest that political reforms will be designed not to heal Thailand's divides, but to ensure that followers of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra cannot return to power through elections.
Thailand's return to democracy is not yet in sight as senior members of the military government signaled with the news that the elections initially promised in 2015 could be delayed until as late as 2016. This looks particularly grim when the comments came from two ministers, one in charge of security, and another in charge of economy.
Spreading anti-coup leaflets continues to be seen as a cause for arrest and the Thailand page of Human Rights Watch poses enough threat to be blocked by the junta. No real positive progress has been made six months after the coup as the junta are working to ensure that there remains a climate of fear, or as one blogger called it the perils of different thoughts.
On the economic front, the World Bank has predicted that Thailand would remain the slowest-growing economy in South-East Asia till 2016 (see pages 153-156 of this report). While there may be efforts by the junta for short term push, the long term negative effect on investment and economic growth will be felt. Morgan Stanley for instance noted that companies are now looking to expand elsewhere.
Much uncertainly awaits in the coming weeks as the junta-appointed National Assembly is set to deliberate whether or not to engage in a bizarre retroactive impeachment of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Also full of speculation is the sensational cleaning up of a high-level corruption ring alleged to have falsely claimed links to the royal palace, and who knows where this story might lead us to next.
Thailand’s military government is severely repressing fundamental rights and freedoms six months after its May 22, 2014 coup. The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has shown no genuine signs of restoring democratic civilian rule.
According to a report by Morgan Stanley, “private companies were focused more on expanding internationally either in neighboring countries or other ASEAN countries, rather than committing significantly to domestic growth in 2015.”
Eight student activists, including a student who was arrested for giving the anti-coup three-fingered salute at the Hunger Games 3 premiere last week, were arrested after they distributed anti-coup leaflets at Thammasat University, Tha Prachan campus.