THE RULING JUNTA has done well in the first phase of its mission, but the road ahead will not be rosy, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva told The Nation in an exclusive interview recently.
While the junta has managed well such emergencies as political violence and the unpaid money in the rice-pledging scheme, the real issues such as the national economy and problems of low prices for agricultural products are waiting. While it needs to maintain peace and order in the country, the junta also needs participation from all groups of people in national reforms, he said.
While the junta’s main mechanisms are now the bureaucrats and some groups from the business sector, it has to prove it is firm in the principles of transparency and good governance it had announced, he said.
“I want to see a clear signal from the NCPO [National Council for Peace and Order] of who will do what in the next year. It should also live up its principles and make things go in line with people’s expectations for the national reform,” he said.
The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has not begun its work yet, but some members have shown reluctance to declare their assets. Meanwhile, the provisional charter, the Royal Decrees, and the NCPO announcements imposed have allowed many exceptions compared with the previous Constitution.
People holding positions in the independent agencies should not be allowed to double in the NLA or the National Reform Council. Cabinet members should also be free from conflict of interest, he said.
“You (the NCPO) have to try your best to use the same standards as those you want the country to have,” he said.
“It’s like you (NCPO) are creating a ‘decent system’ in your opinion, but you say it should only be implemented later,” he said adding that he expected the NCPO to use as little exception as possible in running the country.
“I don’t want to see problems like this accumulate as the people will lack confidence in the direction our country is going. Some people will be unhappy and they will use this to backlash [at the NCPO],” he said.
In the meantime, the NCPO’s continuing political control might result in adding to discontent in people’s minds, Abhisit said.
“I wonder why the NCPO has opted to appoint government officials to take care of local administration instead of allowing the elections. They will not take place at the same time nationwide so it would not be too difficult to prevent chaos,” Abhisit said.
“Why didn’t the NCPO take this chance to demonstrate its fight against electoral fraud? There’s the gap between government officials and the people. Villagers now don’t have people in the area they can immediately turn to when they face problems. The NCPO might be losing the chance to get support from local politicians and maybe the local people also,” Abhisit said.
“This confuses people whether [the NCPO] is really going to push for decentralisation of power as part of the reform or not,” he said.
“Thai style of democracy?”
Although he said he did not know exactly what the “Thai style of democracy” mentioned by NCPO chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha meant, democracy should mean more decentralisation, more empowerment for the people and less power for the government. At the same time, people’s basic rights must be upheld.
Abhisit pointed out that the key mechanisms employed by the NCPO were the influence of conservative technocrats and people from some giants in the business sectors. Conflicts between the groups pushing for reform and those who want to maintain the status quo are likely.
“It seems the NCPO wants to see the country like it was in the past, in many aspects. Some are possible, others are not. Society has changed, the population and family structures have changed, you can’t expect the same.”
“Who are farmers nowadays? They no longer depend only on the income from agricultural products,” he said.
People might have welcomed the coup on May 22 as it stopped the tense political turmoil, but their opinions will swing as they see more problems in daily life, he said. Support for the coup might decline over time.
Whether the result of the national reform will last long depends on |people’s acceptance. When the main consideration will be in the content, the best way to gauge the acceptance is a national referendum, he said.
The Democrat leader also believed ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra still wants an amnesty law, but such a blanket amnesty law is unlikely to be passed because it would create turmoil, as it did last year.
“I think the red shirts who seem to be quiet so far are waiting their time. Now they are waiting to see what the NCPO will do – and whether they will get what they want [in the new constitution],” he said.