Army needs to learn to be neutral

Army needs to learn to be neutral

The Prayut Chan-o-cha government's plans to forge reconciliation in the country seem to be falling flat after the Pheu Thai party came out to denounce the committee put in charge of the process.

The Pheu Thai Party, which was a reincarnation of the People's Power Party, which was a reincarnation of the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai party, has been the winner of every single national election since 2001.

It recently blasted the committee put in place by the military regime to carry out the reconciliation process initiated last month by the Prime Minister as part of the so called 'road map' to democracy and elections.

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

The initial date for that 'election' was one year after the May 2014 coup but it has been shifting each quarter and as it currently stands is set for mid to late next year.

In order to carry out an election, the government wants to first reconcile the social differences that have widened among Thais since the street protests in 2005 and the coup in September 2006.

The divisions in society reached their peak in 2010 when the military, under the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, suppressed the red shirt movement which eventually lead to death of close to 100 people and many more injured.

The elections the following year saw the Pheu Thai sweep to power with Yingluck Shinawatra, a political novice, managing to gain an absolute majority.

However, her high was short lived after a street protest led by the People's Democratic Reform Council (PDRC) crippled her ability to manage the country effectively.

The country continued to remain divided between 'red' and 'yellow', yellow being the supporters of PDRC and its predecessor movement 'People's Alliance for Democracy'.

The coup of 2014 that ousted Ms Yingluck from power saw many yellow shirts assume power, with Deputy Prime Minister Prawit being one of them.

Pheu Thai on Thursday issued a statement criticising the government committee tasked with fostering national reconciliation and its subcommittees, saying that the committee was made up mostly of military personnel.

The party said these committees are not neutral bodies as they fall under the influence of the leader of the military regime. They should be scrapped and replaced. Gen Prawit, who heads the government committee on reconciliation, seemed visibly irritated and fired back, insisting that all of the already formed groups are impartial.

I don't blame the Pheu Thai for raising this question. The party and its previous reincarnations have all been subject to disbandment and persecution at the hands of military personnel, be it the 2006 coup led by then army chief Sonthi Boonyaratkalin or the massacre of street protestors in 2010, not to mention the latest coup in 2014.

It is the same military personnel that failed to take action against the yellow shirt movement when they overran Government House and shut down the two airports in Bangkok.

This crippled the economy and all in the name of forcing the then People's Power Party Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to resign. This military personnel also failed to take action when Government House was seized by the PDRC and when the Government Complex and various ministries were shut down in a bid to to force Ms Yingluck out. The military has never shown neutrality, so how can the Pheu Thai believe in its ability to come out with a solution that is fair for everyone?

To top it all, Gen Prawit was part of the group that made the decision to crackdown on the red shirt movement, so with what credibility does Gen Prawit have to lash out at the comments made by the Pheu Thai.

Having independent bodies recommend studies is not a new thing. There were many such committees formed and one had actually completed its study not too long ago. The recommendations are still lying somewhere in the files and cabinets of the puppet parliament that was set up after the coup.

Every conflict in society across the world has been resolved under the guidance of truly independent bodies and the current split in Thai society cannot be resolved unless an independent body is in charge. But what baffles me the most is how the military regime even thinks that it can resolve the divisions in society when a party that represents a bulk of the country's population comes out to voice its opposition.

Umesh Pandey

Bangkok Post Editor

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

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