Regime shows politicians the back door

Regime shows politicians the back door

Why are people wondering whether the coup leader Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will take on another role as prime minister?

While it's highly likely that he will — I mean, I would if I were him — there is no point debating it.

As head of the coup body, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), Gen Prayuth already has all the power he needs.

Under the provisional charter which Gen Prayuth designed and approved, the coup council leader can override the government, legislative assembly and judicial branch.

Let's cut through the melodic haze of the ubiquitous happiness song and face the music.

The real issue is not about who will become the next prime minister.

It is not about whether or not the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) is too militarised, or who will get to sit in the reform council.

It's not even about what kind of legislation or reform plans these coup-installed bodies will come up with.

The issue is, it has become plenty clear that every organisation set up during this transition period will proceed along the "roadmap to democracy" plan that the coup leader has in mind.

The real issue, therefore, is what kind of "democracy" Gen Prayuth is keen to return us to.

More to the point, the question will be whether the junta-style democracy will be democratic enough, or will it be considered democracy at all.

So far, the coup council has been precise in delivering what it promised to do according to its reform plan and timeline.

Keeping warring factions and critics of the coup under control, check.

Going after armed militants, check.

Giving the country a temporary charter, also check.

Judging from the content of the provisional charter, which serves as a base map for the permanent one to be drafted by a committee under the National Reform Council, it appears the junta will use the highest law as a supporting structure for a model of "managed democracy" that will suit what it perceives as a Thai cultural and political context.

Gen Prayuth has been forthright in his rejection of the kind of democracy that we practised before the May 22 coup.

The regime may be described as one that supported a strong political party, policy innovation and executive arm.

The junta apparently wants to shift the focus to a more controlled democracy, with an emphasis on how to keep elected politicians in check.

What the coup council is likely to do in implementing its "reform roadmap" is to put into place mechanisms that will restrict the ability of politicians to devise public policies and implement them as they have in the past.

It appears the coup council is envisioning buffing up the bureaucratic system so it will serve as the driver of the country's development agenda instead of the government.

The vision for the junta-style democracy guided by bureaucracy is clearly laid out in the framework for drafting the new charter.

The framework, prescribed in the provisional charter, said the new charter must contain 10 elements, many of them apparently designed to curb politicians' behaviour.

Among them, it must enshrine mechanisms that could prevent people who have been judged by the court as corrupt or who committed election fraud from ever serving in political office.

It must have a system of monitoring to ensure state power and budgets are used for the country's benefits.

In a clause that is apparently aimed at curbing the use of populist policy to lure votes, the framework stipulated the new charter must contain an "effective apparatus" to drive the economic and social system and prevent a way of administering the country that is geared towards building political popularity.

It's not clear yet what that "effective apparatus" will be, that will serve as a superstructure supervising the country's public policies and government. A combination of central-planning bureaucracy and the court? 

Most importantly, the junta wants these politician-controlling layers to be set in stone.

The framework said the new charter must have a clause that prevents it from being amended easily. Needless to say, this deadlock feature looks like a potential cause for further conflict.

But of course, the roadmap may go smoothly if a majority of people in the country are for this vision of a guided democracy. The question is, how do we know?

Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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