Thai Politics Look Bleak

18 June 2015

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Thai politics remains murky after one year of the military junta. The prospect of a quick return to democracy is bleak. Political struggle continues to rise. 
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha intends to hold on to power longer than expected. 
“If the people want me to stay, they have to find a way for me to stay, then I will and I can,” Prayuth told reporters early this month. “But everyone must find a way to protect me from both outside the country and within the country.”
Such a move will worsen the political situation, annihilate public trust and damage international confidence on Thailand, resulting in a highly unpredictable political outlook. 
“Thailand could be stuck in a climate of uncertainty in which the military fiercely protects the status quo,” says Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at Kyoto University. “The situation will throw Thailand into jeopardy, with negative implications for the region.”  
Political reconciliation and democracy were expected after a short interregnum through the military intervention. Instead the junta has led the Kingdom towards democratic regression and political alienation. 
The martial law which was imposed two days before the coup on May 22 of last year was revoked on March 22 and replaced with Article 44 of the interim constitution. Critics have raised concerns that the Article paves the way for absolute power in the hands of Prayuth. 
“As Article 44 engenders more opposition and resistance, still more power and greater enforcement will be needed – this is a recipe for growing confrontation and turmoil,” explains Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University. 
The controversial newly drafted constitution, produced by the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee, is being questioned by political parties and the general public with regards to the core principles of representative democracy. 
Those questions are amendments from the first-past-the-post voting system to a proportional representation system; the conferring of power to extra-parliamentary bodies such as the Senate and independent organisations; and the nomination and election of a prime minister by an independent body, not necessarily from a political party or parliament.
Such provisions aim to weaken the power of political parties and politicians. A loose coalition government created after the election will not threaten the power of the ruling elites, the military and monarch networks. Thaksin networks, or Pheu Thai Party, have been perceived as the core threat to the ruling elites. 
Due to increasing criticism and pressure from different political groups and civil society, the Cabinet and the National Council for Peace and Order agreed earlier this week to hold a constitutional referendum. There are some key questions: What if the draft constitution fails in referendum? How long will it take to draft a new constitution? When will the elections be held? 
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Visanu Kruea-ngarm has suggested four options. 
First, it will set up a new National Reform Council and a new Constitution Drafting Committee to draft a new charter. Second, it will form a panel to draft a new draft without setting up a new National Reform Council. Third, it will assign the National Legislative Assembly to craft the new draft. Fourth, it will assign one organization or more to choose a previous charter for reconsideration.  
Whatever options it takes, the junta must ensure that political inclusiveness and democratic representation prevail. Political impartiality is critical in drafting the constitution.  Otherwise, it will not result in a stable and equitable political system. 
If the junta still pursues its strategy of uprooting Thaksin’s networks and weakening political parties, it will fail in promoting national reconciliation and restoring a genuine democracy. For instance, the legal maneuvering against the two former Thai prime ministers, Somchai Wongsawat and Yingluck Shinawatra are counterproductive to national reconciliation.  
If the trend is not reversed and power not returned to the people, the political crisis and upheaval will re-emerge, which in turn will adversely affect socio-economic development. And Thailand’s role in the region and the world will further drop.
Democracy works when there are strong political parties with clear vision, political will, and capabilities to deliver results. Thai political parties, learning from past shortcomings, must strengthen their institutions to best serve the interests of the people. Transparency and accountability are key principles that need to be observed. 
Thai society has long embraced the value of democracy. They have passed the litmus test of being patient and tolerant. They will stand up to restore democracy and demand their rights and freedom. 
Thailand will face another wave of political turbulence or even a political tsunami unless the junta realises the aspirations of the people and effectively implements the road map to democracy.

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