BANGKOK — Politicians from two major parties believe the National Strategy Bill adopted by the junta-appointed parliament on June 22 is a key element in ensuring the military junta will maintain control on major policies over elected governments for the next 20 years.
On Friday, junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha denied the National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO, is seeking to stay in power for the next 20 years – an allusion to the 20-year plan in which the commission will be headed by him.
“We do not wish to control politics or democracy for the next 10 to 20 years. For those who think that of us, I do not consider them to be Thai,” said Prayuth during his weekly Friday televised address.
The junta leader earlier defended the bill by saying on June 27 that the bill is in line with the constitution and that public views had been considered during the drafting process.
Former deputy prime minister and Pheu Thai Party MP Phongthep Thepkanjana described the national strategy to be imposed by the commission as restrictive. Phongthep used the analogy of a [snake] sneaking inside a pipe to refer to future elected governments.
Phongthep said the analogy came from Gen. Lertrat Ratanavanich, a member of the National Reform Steering Assembly, while the two took part in a political program on television on June 13.
“He told me the strategy is like a big tube and incoming governments, like a snake inside the pipe. That [there are spaces in which] you can still maneuver and sneak. It must be asked what happens if this pipe leads to a cliff. How do we solve it? Or what if there’s a flood or a fire inside the pipe?”
To Phongthep, the 20-year national strategy is a tool for the junta to attempt to determine the course of politics for the next two decades.
“Don’t even think of people’s participation. There’s no such thing. It may dominate future governments and state organizations,” he said.
Under the bill, the commission has a term of five years, but it’s unclear whether it will end up becoming a permanent body beyond its term. The 34-member commission – to be chaired by Prayuth in his capacity as prime minister – is composed of senior military officers and top bureaucrats.
Among them are chiefs of the army, the air force and the navy, the permanent secretary of the defense ministry, the secretary general of the National Security Council and senior figures in the private sector such as representatives of the Thai Bankers’ Association, the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Council of Thailand. Seventeen – or half – of the commission are members by default, while the other half will be appointed by the current military government.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam late last month sought to defuse concerns and defended the commission by saying incoming governments had no reason to be alarmed as the national strategy – yet to be meted out – will also take people’s voices into consideration. Others such as police Maj. Yongyuth Sarasombat, chair of the assembly’s special committee vetting the bill also told the assembly earlier in February that the strategy could be amended by future governments to suit changing situations. He said this would enable the kingdom to have strategies covering all aspects of society and to ensure continuity.
Wisanu added that once the bill is announced on the Royal Gazette, the commission will have 120 days to submit the plan to the assembly for it to consider and forward it to the cabinet and then to the assembly for final approval. He added that politicians not adhering to the strategy plan could eventually be removed from office by the Constitution Court and could face a possible jail term. Wisanu acknowledged that although national strategy can be amended, it would be difficult.
Phongthep believes the move is designed to dictate government policies for the next two decades.
“Will governments be restricted to follow the path? If so, this will be very problematic and elected MPs and people will have to come out and demand some change,” the former deputy premier replied when asked what could be done about it.
Equally pessimistic about the strategy commission and its plan was Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat.
“Some of their strategies may cause damage… World affairs is fast changing while adjusting the plans will be difficult,” said Nipit, adding that the military junta will already be wielding a lot of influence through the Prayuth-appointed senate in the new government.
Nipit said the senate will make it difficult for the elected lower house to amend any policy dictated by the strategic commission.
“If an elected government would want to amend the National Strategy Act, it would be difficult and may not be timely enough to cope with economic and world situations. There are also criminal liabilities for not following the strategy. It’s a concerns that incoming governments may not be able to determine public policy,” he said.
Nipit shared a similar reactions to Phongthep on what needs to be done although he also proposed trying to talk sense with the future senate citing the need to be flexible.
“There should be room for amending it because if it’s difficult to alter the 20-year plan, it would only drag the country down,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chulalongkorn University political scientist Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, an expert of electoral politics, said he didn’t see any way out.
“This is tantamount to putting political parties under another mechanism… The only way to make elections meaningful is to amend this law. It is rendering elections and political parties meaningless… In the end, the general will [of voters] will be constrained by the national strategy commission,” Siripan said.