BANGKOK — The broad powers granted to Thai junta chairman Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha under Article 44 of the interim charter will be used to swiftly solve national problems without violating human rights, government officials say.
Gen. Prayuth announced today that he has asked for the King of Thailand’s permission to revoke martial law, which has been in place since the coup last May. The law will be replaced with Article 44 of the interim charter, Gen. Prayuth said.
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha speaking to reporters at the Government House on 31 March 2015.
Article 44 is effectively a carte blanche that authorizes the the junta chairman to issue “any order to disrupt or suppress” any act that “undermines public peace and order or national security, the Monarchy, national economics or the administration of State affairs, whether that act emerges inside or outside the Kingdom.”
These orders will be “deemed to be legal, constitutional and conclusive,” the Article states. Gen. Prayuth is not required to inform the government in advance of issuing an order, but simply to notify the interim parliament “without delay.”
Legal experts and human rights groups have expressed alarm over Article 44’s vague and sweeping scope, which they say endows Gen. Prayuth with a dangerous amount of unchecked power. The former army chief, who led the coup in May, is currently both chairman of the junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), and Prime Minister of the interim government he appointed.
According to Maj.Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, spokesperson of the Office of Prime Minister, Article 44 will be used in two ways.
First, the law will be invoked to solve various “national problems” in a fast and efficient manner, the spokesperson said, citing a recent warning from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that a number of Thai airlines, including the state-owned Thai Airways, have failed to meet international safety standards.
“If we proceed with all the steps, of which there are 8-10 steps, it may take one year or one year and a half,” Maj.Gen. Sansern said. “Therefore, the Prime Minister has agreed to use the NCPO power under Article 44 of the interim constitution, which allows the NCPO chairman to solve problems in various sectors. It will be a constructive exercise of the power to reduce the number of steps, because we only have 30 days to solve this problem in accordance with the ICAO regulations. Within 30 days, we will send details about our solution about flight standards to the ICAO.”
According to Maj.Gen. Sansern, any order issued by Gen. Prayuth via Article 44 will have the same status as a law.
Article 44 will also be used to retain key powers granted to the military under martial law, he said.
“In fact, we only used only one or two chapters of martial law, such as allowing security officers to search properties and arrest and investigate individuals, but foreign [nations] don’t care about that,” said Maj.Gen. Sansern. “So, we found a new way to help the international community feel relaxed about our exercise of power, and arranged for Article 44 to be used.”
The Thai junta’s use of martial law to arrest civilians without charges and try them in military courts has come under steady criticism from human rights organizations and democratic nations.
Speaking more bluntly to reporters today, Gen. Prayuth said he will not use Article 44 to violate the civil rights of anyone who is innocent.
“If you didn’t do anything wrong, why are worried?” Gen. Prayuth quipped when he was asked to comment on the law. “I insist that Article 44 will be used creatively in one aspect, and the other aspect is to deal with national security problems. If there’s any shooting and causing of chaos again, I will arrest them. I will arrest them immediately. We will use laws like this, otherwise we would have to wait for court warrants.”
He explained further that Article 44 will permit military officers to work on national security issues and assist various bureaucratic agencies.
“Don’t be afraid. I don’t know why are you so afraid, if you didn’t do anything wrong. Please help explain to the people,” the general added.
Asked whether he believes the invocation of Article 44 will improve the junta’s reputation abroad, Gen. Prayuth replied,
“The media has to help me explain. I don’t get it, why are you so troubled by this? Today, all of you know what the problems of this country are. Will you let the country collapse? I have to take responsibility for this matter. My wife and my children are troubled [by my duty]. But why am I still doing it? And why doesn’t the media write about what the previous government has done? Why don’t you write to make people understand that the previous government didn’t solve any problems?”