Loosening the 'monopolisation' of opinion

Loosening the 'monopolisation' of opinion

May 22, 2014: The brand new National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) introduces itself to the nation. (Photo by Kosol Nakachol)
May 22, 2014: The brand new National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) introduces itself to the nation. (Photo by Kosol Nakachol)

After more than two years in power, the military government has consolidated power among its brothers-in-arms rather than reaching out and embracing other stakeholders in planning the future of the country.

In particular, as the country still faces a deep divide, we don't want to see a situation in which the military claims to be the sole group loyal to the highest institution and pointing to those with different opinions as being disloyal.

Now that the constitution has received public approval, it is time the junta eases its firm grip and permits political debate as well as discussions about governance, the electoral system, and the election. The sustainability and well-being of key institutions in the country can only be achieved through the broadest possible platform.

Achara Ashayagachat is Senior News Reporter, Bangkok Post.

People from numerous sectors of society should be able to speak out. The ongoing "monopolisation" of opinion by a handful in the upper echelons of power is only going to backfire.

But the reality is that nearly 200 people and activists who protested or criticised the charter and the powers-that-be have been arrested, charged, tried and convicted, in what the international community perceives as human rights-violating lawsuits.

Under such tight control, politicians have also started to suffocate as they are not allowed to discuss or communicate with their supporters on their political plans. The regime has already crucified leaders of the Pheu Thai Party through controversial corruption lawsuits. If convicted, these leaders are to face criminal charges which are punishable by imprisonment.

Whether former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra deserved asset seizures for her role in the controversial rice-pledging scheme which caused 36 billion baht in damage to the country is still debatable. Some people see the asset-seizure process as an attempt by the regime to make up for their previous and unsuccessful bid to freeze ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's fortune.

Asset seizures are nothing new in this country. It's normal that those involved in a putsch would cite the unusual wealth of the previous leaders, in addition to other charges, for such a move.

After running the country for a year following the Oct 14 uprising, the Sanya Dhammasakdi government was forced to embark on asset seizures of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, Field Marshal Prapas Charusathien and Col Narong Kittikachorn (one billion baht in total).

Thanom himself had also seized some 605 million baht in assets from his predecessor and protege Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, who was said to have amassed more than 2.8 billion baht while in power.

One of the leaders of the 1991 coup also had part of his wealth, some 100 million baht, seized and returned to the state in lengthy trials which began posthumously.

The wealth of successive coup makers, from Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin who toppled the Thaksin government in 2006, to the current coup cabinet, astounds us. Eight generals in the Prayut Chan-o-cha government have combined assets of 517 million baht. Three brothers in the Wongsuwon family have combined assets of around 228 million baht.

Apart from wealth, the Prayut administration has been faced with a series of scandals -- the Rajabhakti Park saga, the successful bidding of projects in the 3rd Army Region by a son of former permanent secretary for defence Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, who previously recruited his other son to the army through special methods, and the 20.9-million-baht chartered flight to Hawaii for Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon. The military is not reluctant to silence critics with heavy-handed measures from harassment and threats to arrests and lawsuits.

It's hard to say if the Prayut govt still has good intentions, running the country for the sake of the people, as pledged on May 22, 2014 when it took power. The scandals have tarnished its image and eroded public faith as people are tired of unchecked governance. After all, the military has claimed they are sacrificing to weed out corruption.

In several speeches, His Majesty the King emphasised that officeholders should think of the people's interest and well-being as the ultimate goal of their work/missions.

He even said in his birthday address in 1993 that his royally initiated/sponsored projects could also be criticised. "If the people can't comment on the royal projects, our society will not make progress."

If the country is a corporation, the regime is working as the management, not the owner of the firm. Its duty is to pay heed to the advice of His Majesty, as head of the firm.

 

Achara Ashayagachat

Senior reporter on socio-political issues

Bangkok Post's senior reporter on socio-political issues.

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