The politics of decree

The politics of decree

For the sixth time, the Prayut Chan-o-cha government has extended the controversial emergency decree, claiming that the special law is still a necessary tool for coronavirus control. Although it has vehemently insisted that the use of decree in handling critics and opponents is apolitical, the opposite is the truth.

Prime Minister Prayut has downplayed allegations of power abuse, saying critics are "only misunderstanding" that the authorities have used the decree against pro-democracy activists demonstrating against the state.

Besides, the government argues that the decree cannot be revoked because regular laws are not enough for virus control due to a lack of integration among different state agencies. Another reason claimed by the government is without the decree, the state would have to abolish the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

As there is no sign that the government will give up the special law soon, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has found that the controversial law has been used against several political activists. In short, 63 people have been charged with this law in 17 cases.

The non-profit agency noted that the latest complaints were filed against 15 activists led by Jatupat Boonpatararaksa, aka Pai Daodin, who rallied on July 18 under the banner of the Free Youth group.

At the same time, it said activists in the provinces of Khon Kaen, Lampang, Lamphun and Chiang Mai, among others, faced the same legal action as their Bangkok-based colleagues. The decree will likely be slapped against those leading the forthcoming protests this month.

More importantly, the oppressive law has given way to counter-protest groups filing charges against the activists, intensifying the resulting punishments. It should be noted too that the prime minister has urged swift legal action to deter the pro-democracy movement.

It has become obvious the government was not telling the truth when it said the authorities would refrain from using the decree against the protesters.

On the contrary, it wants to use the decree, which carries stiffer penalties, including a maximum five-year imprisonment and/or 100,000-baht fine. In comparison, breaking the Disease Control Act only carries a 20,000-baht fine as a penalty, while breaching the Public Demonstration Act only leads to six months in jail and a 10,000-baht fine.

The decree is a tool to muzzle government critics and opponents. But, on top of that, the emergency decree gives the authorities a blank cheque as they can enjoy impunity if and when they abuse power.

While the existing laws are more than enough for virus control, the government, which transformed from a military regime, refuses to listen. By refusing to give up the decree, which substitutes for the draconian Section 44, Gen Prayut, who now leads an elected government, gives the impression he is addicted to power.

And even though the Prayut government still wants to keep the decree, there is no justification in using it against pro-democracy activists. The fact is, when the coronavirus situation improves, these activists will still have to fight legal battles that could last years.

The state should tell the authorities to immediately drop the charges against the activists under the emergency decree and instead enforce existing laws when necessary and appropriate. By clinging onto excessive power, free of a checks-and-balances mechanism, the government that claims to have won power through a democratic election sets a bad example.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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