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Paiboon straddles military contradiction in support of Prayut

Dec 31. 2017
Paiboon Nititawan
Paiboon Nititawan
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By WASAMON AUDJARINT
THE NATION

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A FAMILIAR face linked to the ruling junta, Paiboon Nititawan’s agenda seems clear but at the same time conflicting.

He intends to set up a party to support Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s post-election premiership while at the same time criticising so-called “military parties” in the political arena.

Apart from having “good morals” and being “honest and capable”, Prayut had also confirmed there would be an election soon, the former senator said. “His promise on the November election is meant to commit not only himself but also other [powerful] figures that may want to stay longer in power,” he said.

However, it is Prayut alone that Paiboon esteems. “People around him may be questioned by the public but we trust in him and only him,” he said. “There is no proof that he has anything to do with alleged corruption.”

The 64-year-old, who was formerly an appointee of the junta, last year announced the establishment of the People’s Reform Network, which is expected to become a political party.

The network is premised on the statement that empowering people’s voices and reforming parties and politicians could be successful if Prayut continues in his post.

After many of Thailand’s 13 coups, post-coup parties with connections to military figures were not unusual to ensure their sponsors’ post-election political power. 

Paiboon, however, claimed that his anticipated party would be something different. “Whether they are nominee parties or military parties, they were all political failures,” he said. “My party will, instead, belong to people. Those who want to favour Prayut as the next PM are welcome to use our party as a tool.”

Meanwhile, regarding the election – and aware that the November date was not Prayut’s first promise on the subject – Paiboon said it had not been Prayut’s intention that the “road map to democracy” would be frequently altered.

Instead, he blamed “some people in the five rivers of power” who wanted to delay the election. 

The so-called “five rivers of power” refers to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the Cabinet, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) and the Constitution Drafting Commission. The last “river” was comprised of two reform-related parliamentary mechanisms, both of which are now defunct.

All members of the said bodies were handpicked by the ruling NCPO.

Paiboon was an appointee of the erstwhile National Reform Council, one of the “reform” organs that was dissolved following its vote disapproving of the first junta-written charter draft in 2015.

“I was in the circle of appointees. I know the colour of those people,” he said.        

Paiboon’s political career also predates that appointment, having served as a senator twice from 2008 to 2011 and 2012 to 2014. 

He is known for the formation of the “40 senator group” that often scrutinised the governments of the defunct People’s Power Party and Pheu Thai Party, which are seen as incarnations of Thaksin Shinawatra’s late Thai Rak Thai Party.

His anticipated role as a party leader would be the first time that he moves from the Upper House to the Lower House with the stated goal to practice the “merit system” that should “liberate” parties from financiers’ domination. 

“Parties should be where people with the public good in their minds gather, not those purely seeking their own interests,” he said

That system, he said, had been practised in politics for years but based on appointments. “That’s where I disagree. Politicians of good morals should be selected by the public, not certain people,” he added.

Early last month, Paiboon submitted letters to the NLA to amend the enforcing Political Party Act to “create a fair playing ground for all parties” by requiring members of existing parties to pay membership fees and suspend the primary voting system in the upcoming election.

He also submitted a letter to Prayut, as NCPO head, asking him to maintain “keeping order”, including the ban against political gatherings of five or more people, which effectively prohibits almost all party actions.

“Some old, extreme scenes might happen again if parties are fully set free. That’s where the NCPO and many people agree,” he said, without offering further details. “If too much conflict happens, who knows, the election might be postponed again.”

Prayut’s recent use of his Article 44 powers to issue NCPO order no 53/2017, which significantly amended the Political Party Act, satisfied all of his requests, Paiboon said.

While the order has been slammed as weakening existing parties and benefiting emerging parties, he said he believed the order “made us [new parties] have less of a disadvantage” as his prospective party prepares for the coming election.

First, the amendment would enable a new party to hold meetings as soon as March 1, allowing it to obtain juristic person status, he said. Second, it would set clear timelines for all parties, and third it would require party members to reaffirm their membership within each party, he added.

He also claimed the third requirement was different from resetting parties’ membership roles as has been widely claimed. 

“It makes sense that party members, who should be held politically responsible, should show documents to confirm their status,” he said.

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