Digital Economy and Society (DES) Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn is in hot water for his unbecoming remarks against anti-government protesters who plan to rally tomorrow, the day the Constitutional Court hands down a ruling on the fate of suspended Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha after a petition by the opposition bloc.
Mr Chaiwut baffled critics when he raised concerns this week over the anti-Prayut protest, and also warned "there might not be an election" should things get out of hand. Such a warning suggests military intervention and has caused a stir.
His gaffe is in response to the anti-Prayut protest, led by Jatuporn Prompan, chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), and Nitithorn Lamlua, a lawyer and key civic figure.
The group known as Kana Lomruam Prachachon (the Melting Pot Group) plans to gather in front of the court amid rising public curiosity as to whether Gen Prayut -- who was suspended from duties pending its decision -- can return to office, depending on how the court interprets his controversial eight-year tenure in accordance with the 2017 charter.
The charter, the work of the military-appointed panel under Meechai Ruchupan, limits a PM's tenure to eight years but in the case of Gen Prayut, it's unclear if his four-year term as junta leader should also be counted. Gen Prayut, who had the support of the 250-strong Senate, appointed by the junta, was named prime minister after the 2019 election.
The blunder has led to a backlash. The DES Minister later explained that he meant to link his concerns to the protest in 2013-14, led by the then People's Democratic Reform Committee which ended with a coup, staged by Gen Prayut and the National Council on Peace and Order.
Not only did Gen Prayut break his promise that he would not be in politics for long, but he and his so-called brothers in arms were insincere about setting a fairer political game through charter amendments, despite a pledge they made during the 2019 election.
Yet the DES Minister, who is also deputy leader of the ruling Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP), argued that he did not see the necessity of a street protest, as the coalition government's term will end in a few months' time anyway. He urged the public to exercise patience. The Election Commission has initially set May 7 for the poll unless the government dissolves parliament earlier than expected.
In short, he said that if there is a coup (to suppress the protesters), the election will be delayed. But the minister must mind his tongue. It's not politically correct to speak ill of protests held in line with democratic principles. The tone of the warning gives the impression he condones the use of undemocratic means to settle the country's problems.
Worse, some observers are pessimistic as they consider Mr Chaiwut's warning as a hint the election might be called off. That should not be the case. Instead, all factions must unite against any military intervention, persuade the men in uniform to do their duty, and not step out of the barracks. Military men must not entertain false ambitions of power or the country will slide backwards even further.
As a politician, Mr Chaiwut, as well as his colleagues in parliament, is obliged to uphold democracy, and reject or even condemn military intervention or the use of special power. The right to demonstrate in pursuit of freedom of expression is a basic right endorsed by the supreme law. Anything less is unacceptable.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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