Woeful govt incapable of solving crisis

Woeful govt incapable of solving crisis

So, the Prayut Chan-o-cha regime is resorting to slapping the lese majeste law against protesters again. Up to 14 protest leaders have so far been summoned to answer charges.

The general is hoping that his ultimate trump card will silence young crowds that have been holding a continual series of demonstrations.

By nipping the movement of its heads, the thinking goes, it cannot go on.

That might have been true in the past. But now it is a different beast he is dealing with, a beast that can sprout new heads as the old ones are severed.

And the movement lives on.

Whatever the powers-that-be throw at it -- unreasonable criminal charges, police intimidation, fake news campaigns, etc -- it not only fails to douse the growing movement but becomes its fuel.

This right-wing government and its followers have constantly underestimated the protesters' strength and determination.

The most serious miscalculation so far has occurred in parliament. There, government politicians and senators gave the people's version of a proposed draft constitution a sound drubbing, based on illogical and prejudicial arguments.

Admittedly, the "people's constitution" proposed by civil society group iLaw contains clauses that threaten several sections in the present charter that the government and its supporters hold dear.

The draft calls for the elimination of an "outsider" prime minister, the 20-year national strategy plan, and immunity for the coup makers. It wants to change how senators are appointed and what power they have.

It also wants to amend how independent organisations are formed, make amending the constitution easier, and have all constitution drafters chosen via an election.

Rather than discussing the draft on its merits, government MPs and senators focused their thrashing mainly on iLaw's sources of funding and the fact that its draft would not explicitly leave sections 1 and 2 of the constitution, that deals with the monarchy, untouched.

Their performance reflects how they view themselves -- above civil society -- and resent the people's view of them. Rejecting this draft smacks of revenge rather than a reasoned response to the people's wishes.

The door on a civil dialogue between the two opposing sides is now closed and the political temperature has risen even higher.

Now there are real fears that violence could ensue. It already has albeit on a small scale, but that could change at any time unless something happens to calm tensions.

However, it would be wrong to focus on the government parties and the senators for raising the stakes without calling Gen Prayut to account.

Throughout the constitution debate, the retired general has stayed aloof. When asked what he would do to help usher the process along, Gen Prayut said it was a matter for parliament to consider.

He seems to have forgotten he played a decisive role in choosing those senators. And the Senate plays a larger role than their number indicates in deciding which of the amendment proposals are accepted.

The general used the same tactic toward the police's escalation of intimidation against protesters and the re-enforcement of the lese majeste law.

He feigned inability to intervene, saying the law has to run its course and he could do nothing.

He was being dishonest, of course. The police is under his direct command and it was his statement about imposing strict legal enforcement on the protesters that the police took as a command to start pressing lese majeste charges again after a short lull in its enforcement.

This is a reversal of his earlier stance of compromise when he called on both parties to take a step back. He showed he did his part by rescinding the state of severe emergency.

But that was no step back at all because even without the state of severe emergency the police have continued to slap multiple charges against protest leaders.

With the re-imposition of the lese majeste law, Gen Prayut has turned the heat up several notches. But if he thinks it would cow the protesters into submission, he should really think again.

It's hard enough to suppress a rowdy and violence-prone demonstration. But it's even harder to suppress a non-violent one with many protesters of school age.

The longer the demonstrations go on, the worse the negative impact on the country will be. I didn't say it; Gen Prayut did.

So the general should realise that the demonstrations, if they persist for a long period of time -- and the indications are that they will -- the government will be hard-pressed to solve the myriad economic and social problems.

At best the continuing rallies will be a distraction that takes the government's much-needed attention away from more pressing business at hand. At worst, and this is a real fear, the country could spiral into violent confrontations that will have wide-ranging implications for it.

Gen Prayut is wrong to blame the protesters for the problems. The problems started back in 2006 when the military decided to take power by force, breaking a relatively long stretch of democratic rule.

By staging yet another coup in 2014, Gen Prayut took the country even further back in time.

His six years in power have produced nothing memorable. He hasn't even fulfilled his first promise of bringing peace to the country, let alone ridding the country of poverty. He has instead plunged the country deep into debt.

He and his military buddies cannot deny full responsibility for getting the country into the mess that it is in now. Events have shown unmistakably that they are incapable of solving the problems that are currently facing the nation.

But there is something they can do to give this country a breather. Gen Prayut can do us all a favour and resign and take his cabinet with him.

Wasant Techawongtham

Freelance Reporter

Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.

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