Scare tactics by Thai Junta could backfire

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As the judgement day for former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s rice scheme case is fast approaching, it appears the military government has resorted to scare tactics against her supporters and those from opposing political camps.

Ms Yingluck is scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions on August 25 to hear the verdict for her role in the controversial scheme that allegedly cost the government billions of baht in losses.

It’s likely a huge crowd will turn up to shower Ms Yingluck — who was toppled by the 2014 military coup — with moral support, much as they did on Aug 1 when she delivered her final statement despite state-led attempts to intimidate her supporters.

The authorities deserve praise for exercising restraint and allowing the public gathering that day to go ahead.

But the intimidation tactics emerged later when the authorities slapped fines on van operators for their role in transporting people to the court.

The 21 van operators divide into two groups: those who run regular routes and those with chartered vehicles. The first group, comprising four operators, faced fines up to 15,000 baht for violating the Land Transport Act. This requires them to seek prior permission before deviating from their regular routes. According to Section 27 of the act, punitive measures can include one year behind bars.

The charge for the second group was ferrying passengers without a chartered contract, which breached Section 30 of the same law. One of the operators in this group was ordered to pay a 15,000 baht fine.

Many may ridicule the crackdown on such a seemingly trivial issue by a military regime often condemned for infringing on people’s human rights and trampling on their freedom of expression.

The vehicle operators claim they were just doing their job and trying to earn an honest living. And under normal circumstances, they would probably have been left well alone.

As of now, the political stance of these operators remains unknown. Some may be Pheu Thai sympathisers, but the majority were probably innocent breadwinners with no political agenda.

They were, in effect, doing their job of transporting people from one place to another, which makes the transport law, given the severity of the penalties meted out, seem rather impractical. At the very least, it provides a grey area that allows for misuse of power, a situation exacerbated if the state chooses to use this law for political purposes.

It is true the authorities have the law on their side, but its strict enforcement against the van operators can be interpreted as a scare tactic, if not state bullying, against those who are perceived as enemies of the state.

The government has pledged to foster national reconciliation but its efforts to date have met with relatively little success.

As such, the regime must tread carefully and avoid any actions in this “grey area” that present people with an opportunity to politicise them.

The military regime didn’t want the pro-Yingluck crowd to assemble on Aug 1 — ditto for Aug 25. But the regime must admit there are times when hard power doesn’t have the desired effect, especially in highly sensitive cases.

If used without care, such power can backfire. – Bangkok Post

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