Proposal to Ban Junta From Politics Met With Dismissal

An NLA session at the Parliament House on 5 March 2015.

BANGKOK — A proposal to ban members of the ruling military junta from political office for two years after the next national election appears unlikely to pass, with top leaders in the junta and its appointed bodies swiftly dismissing the idea on Thursday.

According to a plan suggested yesterday by charter drafter Jate Thonawanik, members of all five interim governing bodies installed by the military junta following the May 2014 coup would be barred from politics for two years.

The agencies, known as the Five Rivers, include the Cabinet, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), the National Reform Council (NRC), the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC), and the junta itself, which is known officially as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). 

"For the sake of fairness of all sides, there should be a clear time frame of a break from politics for the Five Rivers to prevent them from messing with politics, because they are the people who are directly involved in this constitution," Jate said yesterday. “We have to prevent accusations from the public that the constitution was drafted to help the perpetuation of [their] power."

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the current junta chairman and Prime Minister, brushed off Jate’s proposal today, advising him and other charter drafters to "stick to the interim constitution," which only bans CDC members from politics, and not the junta or its appointed councils.

"They have to look what the interim charter says, which only mentions the CDC. Stick with it. I also stick with it," Gen. Prayuth said today, "As far as I know, this proposal will cover all of the [Five Rivers], but the interim constitution only bans the CDC. I will stick with the interim charter. This is my opinion, because I enacted this constitution myself."

When a reporter suggested that the wider ban was proposed out of suspicion that the junta will attempt to maintain its power after the next election, Gen. Prayuth teased, "Why would anyone be suspicious about me? If there's so much suspicion, I just won't give up my power."

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has repeatedly cast himself as a reluctant coupmaker who was forced to seize power for the sake of the nation and has no interest in furthering his own political career. He has also insisted that the junta-appointed bodies are impartial in Thai politics and only focused on rooting out corruption and returning peace and order to the country.

Yet Peerasak Porchit, deputy chairman of the NLA, said he also strongly opposes Jate's proposal, and would not have accepted a post in the assembly if knew he would face a two-year ban from politics afterwards. 

"I don't agree with it," Peerasak said. "The NLA is a temporary organization. We are here to perform duties as MP and Senators. We are not related to the constitution and other rules. We have no loss or gain with the constitution, unlike the CDC, so I don't think there should be a restriction of [political] rights for NLA."

He added, "If there's really going to be a ban on politics, please let me know quickly, so I can resign from the NLA."

Alongkorn Pollabutr, former executive of Democrat Party and current member of NRC, said he didn't think the proposal would be "fair" to those working in the junta's interim government. 

"I want the CDC to reconsider the proposal carefully, because it won't be fair to people who decided to serve as NLA and NRC," said Alongkorn. 

He said he worried that the proposal, if enacted, would discourage future elected MPs and Senators from amending the constitution, because they might also face a ban from office for having a say in the charter.

"I am very surprised to see many people from many political parties supporting such a plan without thinking carefully about what kind of consequences it could bring in the future," said Alongkorn.

Speaking to reporters today, Jate agreed that his proposal had little chance of passing.

"In the end, I think this proposal will not be approved, because the CDC won't approve it. There are many CDCs who don't agree with me," Jate said. 

According to a CDC spokesperson, the proposal will be discussed  in a closed meeting tomorrow. 

Thai coup makers have a long history of entering politics after democratic rule is restored. Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who staged the coup in 2006, later headed a political party called Matubhumi (Motherland) and won a seat in parliament in 2011. Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon, leader of the 1991 coup, also famously broke his promise of not getting involved in politics to accept the position of Prime Minister in an elected parliament a year after the coup. 


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