It is good that politicians can finally legally meet to discuss policies and prepare for the election. It is good that more than four people can gather to express themselves without fear of arrest. It is good that nearly five years of direct military rule will likely be over soon as prospects grow for an election in late February.
Yet the very act of lifting political ban relies on another use of absolute power by junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha – all of which are abuses of power – deepening the reliance on unaccountable dictatorial power.
We are still living in Juntaland, where our dependence on arbitrary and illegitimate power is getting worse. Many have become addicted to the junta leader’s absolute dictatorial power, codified as Article 44 in the now-defunct post-coup charter and preserved in the charter pushed through by the junta in 2017. Many have become suckers for autocratic power to the point that some activists even complain Prayuth is not using it enough. They want him to wield his magic pen to end prosecution, such as sedition charges, against critics and opponents of military rule and calling Prayuth to use it.
As someone who is being charged with sedition for having criticized the junta, I find it appalling. Increasing use of dictatorial power doesn’t make things right or democratic.
This absolute power will be around, at least until the day when an elected government starts their first day of cabinet work. Which means, if Prayuth changes his mind due to unsavory election results or for whatever reason, he could still foolishly attempts to prevent an elected government from running the country. Thailand is still at the mercy of this emotionally-volatile dictator and even with political ban lifted, the self-style National Council for Peace and Order still reserves the power to detain anyone without charge for “attitude adjustment” for up to seven days.
So let us not celebrate prematurely and remind ourselves that genuine freedom and democracy cannot be attained by begging but only through fighting and insisting on our inalienable political rights.
The abuse of dictatorial power continued even on the day the junta leader uses his absolute power to lift the ban on political gatherings. Also on Tuesday, Prayuth used his illegitimate power to amend the new anti-graft law to exempt members of state university councils from having to declare assets, thus making a mockery of the junta’s claim to want to eradicate corruption.
Basically the kingdom continues to be trapped in an environment where the repeated use of absolute power has rendered logic and accountability redundant – where there is no beginning and no ending. It is hard for anyone to merely deny the existence of such dictatorial power by merely condemning it as illegitimate and hope it will merely go away, however. Nearly five years of abuse of absolute power with zero accountability leaves a lasting effect on Thai society by making many, even those against the junta, unwittingly see it as a quick fix for society’s ills.
Even the man who has exercised the very dictatorial power has become addicted to its use. Dictator Prayuth declared months ago that he is now a “politician” and yet continues to retain this power as a dictator. Prayuth, like those seeing the use of absolute power as a quick fix, wants to have it both ways as both dictator and politician, at whatever cost to Thailand, at least for the next few months.