Dhammakaya saga's cost is too high

Dhammakaya saga's cost is too high

Over the past 15 plus days, the country has witnessed a standoff that not many people would have thought would have been possible, especially in an era of military rule where anything said is set in stone and must be followed, but the famous Wat Phra Dhammakaya continues to defy the people's beliefs and the standoff continues.

The government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha came out to invoke Section 44 of the interim constitution to try to nab elusive former abbot Phra Dhammajayo to face many charges brought against him.

Despite being declared a specially controlled zone surrounded by about 4,500 officials from the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and Metropolitan Police, there has been no update on how far the authorities have been able to go in their undertaking.

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

The thousands of police and DSI officials who have been camped outside the temple's sprawling compound are looking worn out, while their camping outside does put a burden on the state coffers and eventually on taxpayers.

Think about it. Even if we take the minimum wage (which is not the case with these officers), it is 1.35 million baht per day for wages alone for 4,500 people. This does not include the cost of renting tents, mobile toilets, communication signal jammers, food and other expenses. Now multiply that by the number of days and you have a simple equation of how our hard-earned tax money is being burned just to catch one renegade former abbot who is not surrendering.

The monks within and outside the temple have adopted non-violent methods to make their statement and have been sitting and praying to block authorities from entering the premises.

Despite the efforts of authorities to cut their communication with the outside world, enough information is coming from within the temple to keep people informed.

Meanwhile, sympathy from the international community for the monks has been on the rise, thanks to the smart public relations tactic by the temple of putting up various signs of their need for food and drugs.

The death of two people in the temple has exacerbated the situation and it seems as though the temple is winning the public's hearts and minds, which was not the case before the siege.

All these issues are creating an awkward situation for the government and its leaders.

The frustration from the lack of action has been on all fronts. The media has moved news about the siege of the temple from the front pages to inside pages, while the outspoken prime minister showed his frustration during his speech late last week when he said that the country may need a Section 45 or even Section 88 to be able to tackle the issues that need to be resolved in this country.

To most people's surprise, the audience listening to Gen Prayut actually giggled in what can be seen as an acceptance of the abrasive manner of the premier.

The nearly 140 times that Section 44 has been used since Gen Prayut came to power has shown that not many of the decisions made using this powerful tool have actually been good. The fact that the temple has resisted is a slap in the face of the superpower that has been granted via Section 44.

Instead of learning to tone down and possibly find a solution to many issues that this country faces, Gen Prayut feels it is necessary to use force to solve the problems.

Thais as a society are not accustomed to being forced to do things and the use and misuse of Section 44 has been widely talked about ever since it was put in place after the May 2014 coup.

The case of Wat Phra Dhammakaya is a good example of how the use of the powers of Section 44 is not always the solution. The fact that the temple is resisting the superpower of the draconian Section 44 is not only helping protect the former abbot of the temple but also giving others in the country the courage and will to oppose the abuse of power by the military regime.

It is therefore necessary for the government to come up with a quick solution to end the standoff at Wat Phra Dhammakaya because the longer this issue is prolonged, the more money is likely to be burned in keeping the campaign going.

It will also help weaken the iron grip of the government on society as people will learn that the absolute powers of Section 44 are not as strong as we all used to perceive them to be.

Umesh Pandey

Bangkok Post Editor

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.


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