Decree risks a reality check for the govt
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Decree risks a reality check for the govt

The government has laid down its trump card; the emergency decree, which, ironically, has exposed its weakness.

It is reasonable to argue the decree has pushed the military to choose sides. But the military has stuck to its guns, reiterating that it stands by "the country".

The executive decree on emergency situations was issued by the caretaker cabinet to deal with the anti-government protests trying to paralyse Bangkok.

The executive decree widens the military's role in dealing with unrest. They must combine forces with the police to contain any threatening situations.

The government must have felt the Internal Security Act (ISA) was insubstantial, seeing that it felt compelled to impose the decree. The army chief didn't sound excited when he heard the decree had gone into effect. In fact, the stoic Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha said the military could do nothing other than cooperate, and that soldiers would be sent to assist the military whenever and wherever they were needed.

Wholehearted cooperation is what the government needs from the military in this hour of precarious security. Whether it is getting it is another matter.

The government and the military have been on amicable terms. Gen Prayuth and caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have had a relatively turbulence-free working relationship in the more than two years of her government.

But is it a mirage? The emergency decree could be a painful reality check for the government.

The issue here is not whether the military has shifted to "neutral" or is half-hearted in its aiding the government, which is seen to be fumbling over what to do with the political crisis on its hands, one which could very well sink it.

The decree is strong medicine, positioned somewhere between the ISA and martial law in terms of intensity of authorised military involvement. The decree can deliver all sorts of means to achieve an end. It is a licence to control, suppress, provoke or even agitate, and the military is certain to be nervous of potential landmines from enforcing security under the decree.

It's a hugely delicate business for the military to calculate how far it should exert its authority or play its role in containing political unrest, if and when such duty calls.

The government decided the ISA was inadequate for putting a cap on the protests and replaced it with the emergency decree. The move immediately opened a floodgate of questions surrounding the justification for invoking the decree in the first place.

Can it be presumed that the police under the ISA had exhausted all options in restoring order and peace in order for the caretaker government to declare the decree and invite the military to step in?

Have the police done enough on their part before crying out for help? In the event of extreme violence such as riots, the police themselves may be short of manpower and resources to mount effective counter measures and enlisting help from the military would be a valid recourse.

It is not a riddle of what should come first, chicken or egg. Letting the military onto the scene should be the last resort and doing so too early would give our boys in green every reason to feel awkward, especially with any coup now a faux pas.

The emergency decree has provided a litmus test for how close the government and the military are. The results came out rather pale, even before the decree was imposed, and the government should have picked up on the signs.

The army chief's reaction to the National Security Council recommended enforcement of the decree was reportedly lukewarm. After the decree came into effect, the air force chief declined the government's request to use its main base at Don Muang as the headquarters for the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order.

The business of enforcing an emergency decree is a double-edged sword; it can make a hero or a villain out of a dire situation flirting with the real possibility of blood and gore. The military has lots of risks to weigh up.

The government might also be in deep thought over how much it can count on the military, bearing in mind that in its caretaker role, it can't fire the armed forces leaders.

The anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee secretary-general, Suthep Thaugsuban, has publicly pleaded with the military to protect protesters against attacks which have so far claimed four lives, one of them a core protest member.

As the plot thickens, choosing sides may not be an option for the military.

Kamolwat Praprutitum is an Assistant News Editor, Bangkok Post.

Kamolwat Praprutitum

Bangkok Post assistant news editor

Kamolwat Praprutitum is an assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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