Junta chief criticised after ‘veiled threats’ towards opposition leaders

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gestures as he arrives at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand.

The premier fires a warning shot across the bows of the Future Forward Party

Those who are confident in their trade resist all temptation to defend it, lest doing so might indicate weakness

But this is not the case with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who this week blasted the leader of the Future Forward Party, Thanatorn Juang-roongruangkit, a likely rival to junta-friendly parties in the coming election.

Thanatorn drew the premier’s ire by stating that his first order of business, if elected to lead the country, would be to scrap the 2017 constitution and revoke all orders issued by the junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

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It’s no secret that Prayut wants to continue as prime minister but is fearful of being tested in a general election, lest the public give him a failing grade for his four years in power.

Thus, he and his lieutenants established a ground rule that would allow a non-member of Parliament to be nominated as prime minister.

The NCPO seized power four years ago promising to end street protests, restore democracy and carry out a series of reforms. Today, no one is talking about those reforms.

They’re not part of the usual social discourse, partly because so many people simply lost hope in the junta’s ability or intent to bring about genuine change.

Not only is the NCPO grasping at deeds that might qualify as achievements towards a lasting legacy, it is also scrambling to hold onto power in the face of public cynicism.

So when Thanathorn said he was prepared to “rip up” the constitution and revoke Article 279, which has empowered the premier to overrule other laws, Prayut took it as a direct threat to his administration, legacy and authority.

Perhaps Thanathorn could have chosen a better phrase than “rip up” when referring to the charter, because that’s what the Army does every time it stages a coup.

The NCPO should have known its constitution would come back to haunt it, given the way it was pushed through with little public consultation. Moreover, Thanathorn isn’t the only person talking about getting rid of it.

Others have voiced the same sentiment, except they chose their words carefully to avoid irking the generals.

Prayut’s reaction to Thanatorn’s statement only demonstrates weakness and insecurity. If the junta is indeed proud of its accomplishments, it should let them speak for themselves and avoid outbursts when riled by criticism.

Instead, the Future Forward Party was advised that it should be grateful for the freedom its members enjoy now that the junta has lifted its four-year ban on political gatherings.

Another poor choice of words: If the junta wishes to retain power – or even just earn public respect – there is no need to chastise the Future Forward Party or any other perceived rivals, and certainly not with a reminder of its authoritarian nature.

The clamp on political activities was arguably necessary four years ago to pry apart the warring political sides, but the junta’s decision to keep the ban in place ever since hurt the junta as badly as anyone else.

With the election scheduled to take place in about eight months, there has finally been an easing of restrictions.

We cannot allow any backsliding. Veiled threats to politicians now that they are speaking up again should not be tolerated. – The Nation


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