Article 44 as Strong Medicine and Its Side Effects

Dhammakaya monks and followers protest the use of the junta’s self-granted absolute power to search the temple last month in front of Wat Dhammakaya.

Inadvertently, absolute power under Article 44 of the provisional junta constitution has become controversial again after it was used against Wat Dhammakaya.

A man committed suicide by hanging himself last Saturday in a failed bid to demand the use of Article 44 against the temple, which is facing over 300 charges and is under blockade, be rescinded. Then on Wednesday, a devotee, Pattana Chiangraeng, succumbed to asthma inside the temple leading to a dispute over whether the blockade crucially delayed emergency medics’ arrival.

After over two and a half years, some people continued to refuse to accept absolute power as normal despite it having been used over 300 times since the May 2014 coup.

The Article 44 “law” basically granted Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, as ex-officio junta leader, the power to override the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Prayuth essentially became the law. Instead of the rule of law, Article 44 ensures that it’s rule by Prayuth for Thailand.

The power under Article 44 is not just absolute, it’s also unaccountable, undemocratic and illegitimate. Don’t expect any accountability if someone dies as a result of the use of this “law,” as it was designed to not be accountable at all.

Facing growing criticism, junta spokesman Col. Piyapong Klinphan on Monday resorted to a counter offensive by asking: How would Thailand survive without Article 44 and the National Council for Peace and Order in the future?

The reality is that some Thais have gotten addicted to the use of absolute power as a panacea for all that is wrong. Supporters defended it as necessary to use such power in order to solve Thailand’s ills, from removal of the elected governor of Bangkok and members of the State Railway Board to ensure young motorcycle road racers face stiffer punishments.

The analogy to the use of drugs is quite telling. In fact, some describe the use of Article 44 as “strong medicine.”

Nearly three years on, even a commentary on the otherwise pro-junta Daily News newspaper suggested Thursday that the junta should return to use of more ordinary laws instead of the casual use of Article 44 “in order to prepare Thailand to proceed on a democratic path… without having to call for special power from the NCPO top brass.”

Yes, the risk is that, once addicted to a strong medicine, or addictive narcotic, dictatorial rule becomes of the norm and not the exception. Some people can no longer imagine how life would be without a military dictator, well, dictating them.

However, Some die-hard junta supporters won’t relent and say the use of “strong medicine” is necessary. On the same Thursday, columnist Plaew Si Ngern of Thai Post newspaper stated that strong medicine is needed so the patient’s disease won’t develop immunity. Plaew also compared it to removing a plaster from a wound, saying it can’t be pulled slowly, as it will cause more and longer pain, but should be done swiftly.

It’s clear that some have become addicted to the use of dictatorial power. They have become accustomed to wanting fast results. This is a struggle between Thais who believe that the ends justify any arbitrary means, and those who insist the means must be legitimate, just and never arbitrary.

The cycle of elected governments coming to power, only to be repeatedly ousted in coups, as we witnessed in 2006, 2014 and many times before, is symptomatic of a nation having no genuine social contract.

Thais strongly disagree on whether the rule of law, or the rule by law, should be the norm. And oftentimes, the debate degenerates into hate speech, censorship, violence, suppression and death.