As with any action, there are different points of view on this week’s decision by junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to end the use of military tribunals to try civilians.
One can be positive about the junta’s latest political act and say Prayuth is merciful to end the use of military tribunals for cases deemed security related, at least until one considers those already charged were not included in the gesture.
Supporters of the National Council for Peace and Order, as the junta is callled, see it as proof the regime is willing to accommodate calls by the international community to end the practice. They see this as a positive sign is iron grip on society is gradually relaxing, and it’s not the extremist dictatorship described by critics.
It also reflects a military regime more at ease with wielding the power it robbed from the electorate then codified through a constitution it brokered no dissent in getting passed by 16 million voters.
Thai society may seem a tad less militarized as a result, but the move is far from altruistic.
Next week the government faces another review of its human rights record in Geneva. There it’s unlikely forgotten that since the May 2014 coup, 1,864 civilian cases have gone to military trial, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. And many more are still heading there. The coup makers’ most prominent critics are among them.
People like Sombat Boonngam-anong, who made an early call for the public to rise up against the coup, and dozens of student activists, such members of New Democracy Movement. Known names such as Rangsiman Rome and Sirawit Seritiwat along with others whose names are not in the news. All still face long jail terms to be decided in military courts where they enjoy far fewer rights.
Thus the die-hard troublemakers remain on a short leash.
Some have said the move came because the military is inundated by nearly 2,000 cases, so they must allow the civilian court of justice relieve the burden.
More importantly, deputy junta leader Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan stated for the record that the junta may revoke the order if the situation gets out of control.
It reminds the public that, in fact, Thailand is becoming more dependent on use of the arbitrary absolute power known as Article 44 of the junta’s interim constitution, which gave Prayuth the unreviewable power to override all three branches of power: executive, legislative and judiciary.
Trapped in a seemingly endless cycle between use of accountable and absolute powers, the prevailing message is that power need not be accountable, to the detriment of the principle of rule of law.
The rule by law – as dictated by the junta – is becoming normalized as it continues using its unaccountable and absolute power.
While civilians opposed to the junta may not be fated to military prosecution, Thai society will continue to militarize.
Like it or not, even repealing the use of military courts against civilians provided just another reminder of this.