After five long years, the junta is officially dissolved as of Tuesday. But it has left a damning inheritance.
The military government, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), was clearly not willing to simply step down. The new cabinet is largely constituted by familiar faces, still led by (former!) junta leader Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was sworn in as prime minister anew on Tuesday.
In a televised address on Monday evening, Prayuth bid goodbye as junta leader, claiming that “Thailand is [after the general election and a new government] fully governed as a democratic society.” Hours later though, his deputy was already undermining such claims.
Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam, who was in charge of the junta’s legal affairs, has insisted that the practice of coercion and intimidation notoriously and euphemistically called “attitude adjustment” by the junta will continue under the so-called elected government. Since the 2014 coup, more than 900 people have been detained without charge.
Wissanu confusingly insisted however that there will be no more detention, as many political opponents and critics (including this writer) have been subjected to over the years. Translated into plain English: short of detainment, we will continue to pay visits to the homes of opponents of the regime, and verbally intimidate and coerce vocal critics.
It remains unclear which organ of the state will carry out “attitude adjustment.” Wissanu insisted on Monday that it will be the Internal Security Operations Command, the anti-insurgency agency known for its repressive role in the deep south over the past decade. But a day later, the agency’s spokesman Maj. Gen. Thanathip Sawangthep claimed the agency has neither the mandate nor the authority to engage in attitude adjustment.
Confusing as the situation may be, I’m sure a legal expert like Wissanu will have no problem finding a legal solution in the weeks ahead, given he has done much to make the junta appear legal and legitimate over the years. Wissanu is continuing on in his role as a deputy PM under the new Prayuth administration.
Besides Prayuth and Wissanu, other old faces in the new “elected” cabinet include Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, Gen. Anupong Paochinda and Don Pramudwinai. Don, a seasoned diplomat, has been unabashed in defending military rule in the past and has been duly rewarded. Other Prayuth supporters have been appointed to the Senate, including former cabinet minister Field Marshal Prajin Jantong, who graced a UN-sponsored panel on transnational crime on Thursday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, apparently without any sense of shame after five years of military rule.
The legacies of the junta continue. Exiled dissident Suda Rangupan told me earlier this week that she is concerned about the National Strategy Committee headed by Prayuth which will restrict successive governments in policy making for two decades to come. Suda also said she is concerned about the recent transfer of direct control over Crown Property wealth to the King.
Titipol Pakdeewanich, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University, told me he is concerned about the appointment of army generals to state university boards as well as state enterprise boards. The former could have deep implications for the future of Thai education, while the latter is tantamount to fat financial reward for loyal generals.
Yaowalak Anuphan, the head of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a lawyer group which defends those facing political persecution, is concerned not just about the continued practise of attitude adjustment, but the broader infiltration and embedding of the military in civilian society.
As if five years of direct military rule were not enough, the junta’s legacies will live on in the years to come and pose a challenge to those wanting to make Thailand fully democratic.