By SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE
PERHAPS Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha realised his advisers were playing a dangerous game when he backtracked on Monday on a proposal that the junta remain in power for another two years.
Pro-coup reformer Paiboon Nititawan, a member of the National Reform Council, tried to create a pretext for the continuity of military rule by suggesting the junta needed more time to carry on its reform mission. Non-elected politician Paiboon might have become addicted to power as he continued collecting signatures from like-minded citizens to support his proposal to call for a referendum to justify the perpetuation.
Pro-junta activist Suriyasai Katasila claimed that public sentiment was now supporting the military government, notably Prime Minister Prayut, to stay in power longer since the reform mission was still far from over. Such a claim was backed up by an opinion poll on Sunday indicating the majority of more than 1,000 poll samplings wanted to see completion of reform before an election.
Initially, Prayut appeared convincing when he said his perpetuation depended on the people. But nobody knows which people Prayut was talking about. No one could ensure how voters really felt about the junta, the military government and Prayut’s performance as the junta chief and prime minister. Suriyasia might be wrong and the poll might not be accurate enough to judge public opinion, as most have not yet spoken out.
The most important point was for Prayut not to try, or even to consider, the perpetuation because neither he nor the military junta had the legitimacy to take power in the first place. Furthermore, Prayut has already promised his stint in power would not last long. The junta made a clear roadmap and timeline for the twin tasks of constitution drafting and reform.
It seems that everyone, at home and abroad, turned a blind eye to the process. World leaders from Washington to Tokyo regularly called for the junta to quickly restore democracy in Thailand. Unless Prayut himself is now also addicted to power, there is no point in him perpetuating the military’s rule.
Reform, as everybody knows very well, is a time-consuming task. Indeed, Prime Minister Prayut should have realised from the beginning that reforms would require a long process and inclusive participation. The military, the junta and conservative elite alone would never achieve the reform mission without the community’s participation.
All Prayut, the junta, the crewmembers in the legislative body, the reform council and the charter writers can do is just sketch out an outline for reform. Only an elected government with a full mandate from the people could implement the reform outline.
The reform agenda must not be enforced by this military government since it is apparently against the consent of many people who disapproved of the coup. Implementation of the reform with military force would further deepen the country’s divide, as the anti-coup groups would resist it. If the military had the ability to implement the reform, it should have done so after the previous coup in 2006. That coup, indeed, offered the great lesson that the military should not implement a so-called reform agenda without public consent. That way lies bloodshed.
It is important to note that the non-performing economy in which we currently find ourselves proves that Prayut’s administration lacks the ability to bring growth and prosperity to the country. The military government can shift the blame onto the world economy and previous governments, but that won’t improve anything.
Sluggish exports and low prices of farm products have already hurt the economy and the poor are hurting most of all. For them, as long as Prayut’s government cannot improve the economy, what is the point of him staying on? Rather than thinking of perpetuation, Prayut should cut the reform process short and leave the scene quickly.
And the sooner that happens the better – the voices of discontent complaining about the economic slowdown and the ugly constitution are getting louder.