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NCPO gravely hurt country: scholars

May 22. 2017
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Critics blame military for climate of fear, blocking development.

THAILAND WOULD have performed much better if the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) had not seized power in 2014 and taken firm control over the country during the past three years, academics said yesterday.

Some politicians, meanwhile, took turns criticising the NCPO’s performance, including former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. 

Marking the third anniversary of the coup, the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights held a press briefing to elaborate on the opportunities they felt Thailand had lost since the military took power.

Bandit Chanrotchanakit, a political science lecturer from Chulalokongkorn University, said freedom of expression had significantly decreased under the junta’s rule. The order banning political gatherings of five or more people, for instance, has put pressure on attempts at public scrutiny of the NCPO’s performance, he said. 

“From activists’ attempts to visit Rajabhakti Park to observe any irregularities, to movements [critical to the then-charter draft] on the referendum, they [participants] were all suspended by the NCPO,” Bandit said. “Even reporters and lawyers on these cases were prosecuted for breaking the junta order,” he said.

A climate of fear has even been cast over private conversations online, especially on subjects related to lese majeste, the lecturer said, adding: “This kind of atmosphere has discouraged rational and civilised discussion.”

The NCPO, during one period, also equipped a military court to prosecute civilians on claims of “so-called” national security and sedition, while the swift use of power under Article 44 in the now-defunct interim constitution is still authorised in enforcing the charter, also suppressing people’s different opinions in many cases, he argued.

Such “scenes” have resulted in a lost opportunity for the country to develop a democratic society, which “also makes the NCPO’s claim of building reconciliation and unity nearly impossible”, he added.

Decharat Sukkamnard, an economics lecturer at Kasetsart University, said the NCPO, through its Article 44 orders, had deprived the public of participation in the deliberation of resource-management issues that could have an effect on local communities.

The NCPO head – Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha – has also on many occasions appeared to speak against human values, especially those of lower-income people, Decharat claimed. 

“For example, he said that low-income people should ‘know their place’ and ‘get up on their feet’,” the lecturer said.

Public welfare, especially on healthcare and education, was also closely watched under the junta’s rule, he suggested. 

“Under this Constitution, people tend to have less independence to manage their own educational approach,” he said. “The NCPO’s thinking on welfare is very centralised, that people gradually become mere recipients of public service.”

Yingluck, meanwhile, called on the junta government to keep its promise to reform the country.

“Today we don’t see concrete reform. If there is no reform it would be a waste because [the coup] has caused huge damage to the economy,” Yingluck wrote on her Facebook on Monday as the three-year anniversary of the May 2014 coup was marked.

“Please don’t make three years a waste,” wrote the ex-premier, who was toppled by the junta led by Prayut.

Suriyasai Katasila, a former demonstrator of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which provoked the coup, also slammed the reform and reconciliation process, the two essential points highly expected after the coup, which he said had not made concrete progress.

Suriyasai, who also marched with the PDRC three years ago and prompted the coup, said that the national divide remained persistent despite the fact that it was the main job for the NCPO to resolve.

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