By The Nation
AS THE clock ticks down to election day, the ruling junta has warned it might not lift political restrictions soon because the recent discovery of active military weapons could mean that the country is once again “being targeted for an attack”.
An academic, however, believes the latest weapons discovery might be an attempted distraction by a junta government facing declining popularity and keen to ensure its continued grip on power, soon after its troubled trip to the South. Deputy PM and Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan yesterday claimed that intelligence indicated that “some movements” had started, which could make it difficult to lift its ban on political activity.
“But we also can’t maintain the political ban [forever]. We may lift it when the election is coming close,” Prawit said.
The junta placed political restrictions against political gatherings of five or more people shortly after its 2014 coup, resulting in all politics-related activities, including party meetings, being prohibited.
A call to lift the ban is growing as the election, scheduled for next November, draws near. Many organic laws for the election have already promulgated and only two, on the selection of the Senate and the election of members of the house representatives, are to be discussed at the National Legislative Assembly.
Weapons ‘linked to previous cache’
Prawit, meanwhile, spoke after the recent discovery of a large cache of active military weapons in Chachoengsao, purportedly stored in preparation for an attack in the capital.
Deputy national police chief Pol Gen Srivara Ransibhramanakul on Thursday linked the weapons to an extremist political group led by Wuttipong “Ko Tee” Kottham-makhun, who has reportedly gone missing.
Srivara said an initial examination of the weapons indicated they were from the same batch as those used in at least three attacks in 2014 in Bangkok and metropolitan areas. A search has been ordered for 53-year-old Wattana Sapwichian regarding the original discovery.
Yesterday, Prawit confirmed that the weapons belonged to the same batch as Wuttipong’s but said further updates would be provided by police.
He also defended his reference to the weapons discovery and said it was not staged to legitimise the junta government’s control over security when it was facing declining popularity. “We’re not going down. We have been criticised a lot but we can still work just fine. It’s nothing,” he said.
Meanwhile, Paiboon Nititawan, former junta-appointed member of the defunct National Reform Council, yesterday failed to register his People’s Reform Party with the Election Commission as a result of the junta’s political ban.
Paiboon’s movement attempted to follow the political party bill, which requires parties to update their memberships within 90 days of the law’s enforcement in early October. But several parties have been unable to do so, given the lingering political ban. The junta has assured them that they would manage “one way or another” to make ends meet, including possible use of Article 44.
The People’s Reform Party, which claims to be ready with 117 members across the country, has had its registration rejected by the EC. However, Paiboon said he would be happy to proceed again once the ban is lifted. Set up with a clear agenda to support PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to retain his premiership, the party was also ready to compete in the junta-created primary voting system to yield MP candidates, he added.
Chamnan Chanruang, an independent political observer, said the weapons find was clearly a “red herring” at just the time the military-installed government faced an image crisis.
On the continued political ban, Chamnan said that the use of the newer laws, such as the political party bill, should technically disable the ban and allow political parties to function normally. “This is a fundamental principle of law. We academics also stress this point when petitioning the court,” he said.