BANGKOK — Junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha is back with more questions, and he wants answers from the public.
Five months after posing four leading questions about fundamental democratic principles, such as whether elections were even necessary, the inquisitive Prayuth on Wednesday added six more seemingly designed to reframe expectations for democracy in Thailand. Among them: Whether his junta regime, the National Council for Peace and Order, has the right to back a political party.
“Do I and the NCPO have the right to support any political party?” Gen. Prayuth said to reporters at Government House in an unclear statement. “And do I have to run in an election? No. Can I vote in an election? No.”
A document handed out to reporters after the news conference phrased the question more coherently: “Since the prime minister is not running in the election anyway, is it not the right of the NCPO to support any political party?”
The question comes amid ongoing speculation that a pro-junta party is already in the works to serve as a proxy for the military regime in the next poll, which is slated to take place November 2018. Other questions are essentially statements on the failures of the democratic system and successes of military rule with question marks added to the end.
The timing of Prayuth’s quiz was not lost on the two major political camps.
“I want the prime minister to be straightforward with the people,” said Weng Tojirakarn, a former MP from the Pheu Thai Party. “How is the word ‘support’ different to ‘pulling the strings?’ I want the prime minister to be straightforward: Does he want to return as prime minister or not?”
He added, “By saying vague things like this, it makes the public wonder, what exactly is the prime minister thinking?”
Former Democrat MP Nipit Intrasombat said it’s unacceptable for Prayuth to suggest he has the right to lend the military’s backing to any party.
“I can answer it for him right now: He should not, because it will create unfair advantages and disadvantages in politics,” Nipit said. “Since the NCPO has the power in their hands, whoever they pledge to support, their power will immediately swing that way. For example, officials will be pressured to help that party. If they don’t, they may get transferred.”
The Democrat politician said Prayuth’s absolute power under Section 44 of the junta-written interim charter, which was enshrined in the current constitution, risks being used to support the junta’s political favorites.
“Civil servants must be impartial in elections. They cannot lean either way,” Nipit said. “And especially the NCPO has Section 44 in their hands. Elections will fail.”
Under the constitution drafted by junta lawmakers and approved in a 2016 referendum, parties must submit names of potential prime ministers they would support prior to any vote. Unlike previous charters, the candidates do not have to be elected MPs, opening the way for a premier selected by the military-dominated legislature instead of elected by the public.
Prayuth has repeatedly declined to rule out the possibility of returning as prime minister for another term after the election. Instead, the retired general has told his supporters he will listen to the voices of the people.
Pheu Thai’s Weng urged Prayuth to cut the mystery and openly announce his intent, either by running directly as a candidate or throwing his support behind a party.
“I have no problem with it, because in the principle of democracy, the people’s voice is the divine voice,” he said. “If Prayuth or Prawit [Wongsuwan] set up a party, it’s a good thing, because the people will be able to clearly make decisions.”
According to the hard copy distributed at Government House, here are all six questions posed by Prayuth today:
“Today, do we need new political parties or new quality politicians for the people to consider for the next election?
Since the prime minister is not running in the election anyway, is it not the right of the NCPO to support any political party?
After the things NCPO and this government have done for the past three years, does the public see a good future for the country?
Is comparison of how governments were formed via election in the past with the forming of today’s government entirely appropriate?
Have Thailand’s past governments and electoral politics demonstrated a sufficient and clear degree of competent, good governance and consistent national development?
Why are political parties and politicians making moves to discredit the NCPO, the government and the prime minister, and distort facts about their efforts more intensely than usual?”