The junta and Cabinet under General Prayut Chan-o-cha is spending tax money with the aim of dominating Thailand’s political scene for decades to come.
Having four ministers become executives of the newly launched Palang Pracharath Party is the latest move towards that goal of quasi-dictatorship.
Since day one in power, our unelected politicians have made it clear they are willing to abuse national sovereignty, the armed forces and tax money to serve their overriding ambition.
With the collaboration of veteran corrupt politicians who launched street protests and chaos from late 2013, Prayut was able to stage a military coup in May 2014 that toppled an elected civilian government.
While reactionary elements supported the military takeover, many Thai citizens protested the violation of democratic rule and the people’s will – and they continue to do so. Few now believe Prayut’s claim of taking power to bring reform and reconciliation.
All legal instruments, from the junta-sponsored constitution down to its daily orders, were designed to suppress political opposition and consolidate elite and bureaucratic power.
The junta’s pet projects, notably the Pracharath (People’s State”) programme, are on the one hand populist platforms built to win hearts and minds. On the other hand, they are political instruments designed to divert the national budget towards buying votes in advance.
The Pracharath programme incorporated everything from the Social Welfare Fund to shops, but now its true colours are showing in the emergence of Palang Pracharath.
The party announced its launch last Saturday with four Cabinet members at the helm. They are Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana, who leads the party, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, picked as its secretary-general, Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee and Kobsak Pootrakool of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Palang Pracharath plans to propose General Prayut as prime minister if it joins the government after the general election – due early next year.
The four executives are not merely Cabinet ministers; some are also key members on the national strategy committee, tasked with dictating the country’s path according to the 20-year National Strategic Plan.
The ministers and their sponsor, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, see nothing wrong in joining a party seeking election while at same time holding posts in Cabinet and other government agencies. And no junta law prohibits it.
With the junta-designed legal instruments and military back-up, the party is free from tight restrictions binding its rivals. While other parties are banned from campaigning or meeting prospective voters, Palang Pracharath and its powerful new leadership are free to meet the people on behalf of the ruling government. But worse than this is that taxpayers’ money will fund this de facto campaigning. The same money funds Pracharath projects. Voters are bound
to be confused at where this state largesse is coming from – a happy state of affairs for the new party.
Palang Pracharath represents only the latest abuse of power by the military and elite since 2014. But it could be the vehicle by which they extend their rule for decades ahead.
If an election is called next year, it’s difficult to see how it could be free and fair since the key players have been corrupt since the beginning. With the stranglehold being applied by the elite in Thai society, democracy has no chance of finding a home here. What we are witnessing now is the abuse of rule of law and every democratic norm in the service of elite self-interest. The spectacle is nothing less than a national shame.