Pro-peace PM in full combat mode

Pro-peace PM in full combat mode

Another step towards a return to conservatism was completed yesterday with army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha receiving royal endorsement as the 29th prime minister of Thailand.

Next up is an appointment of a military cabinet.

The coup leader and new PM is obviously leaving nothing to chance.

If his "roadmap to peace" were a battle, and it probably qualifies as one despite the irony, Gen Prayuth is going into it in a full combat mode.

The army chief will take the vanguard while giving his trusted aides and respected senior military commanders control of the flanks.

It's been widely reported that the key ministries — be they interior, transport, justice or education — will come under the stewardship of military men.

News reports suggest a few civilians — professionals — may be brought in to take care of the economy and international affairs, areas where men in camouflage do not have a comparative advantage.

But make no mistake. The new cabinet may be wearing business suits but its members will follow the same marching orders.

The mission is clear. Install an iron-clad framework for Thai-style democracy, with elected representatives being subject to vast review powers by the judicial branch and independent agencies.

The military is likely to retain a role as the ultimate usurper of politics.

People's rights and freedoms will be limited for the sake of peace and order. More laws are likely to be issued that will make it difficult to hold public protests.

Freedom of expression and the media must be curbed as they are seen seen as having led to the political conflicts that prompted Gen Prayuth to launch the coup in the first place.

You can show your opposition to the powers-that-be but do it in the comfort of your own home — that is the idea that Gen Prayuth once gave to people who resorted to displaying the three-fingered salute as a means to defy the coup.

That is probably the guideline for freedom of expression under the new conservative democracy too.  

Gen Prayuth's army, in the guise of a cabinet, will be driven mainly by a legion of bureaucrats. Needless to say, most of them are paragons of Thai conservatism, and inefficiency.

Why has there been so much talk about the need to improve officialdom, to streamline the bureaucratic machine so it can cope with a changing world more effectively? It is because we have a police force that has come up in one opinion poll after another as being one of the most corrupt public units.

We have prisons that double as cartels for inmates to run their drug businesses from behind bars. We have an education chief who tells students to memorise 12 good values of Thais and espouses the use of some vague "goodness" scores as a means for students to be admitted into universities.

We also have Prime Minister's Office permanent secretary ML Panadda Diskul who displayed a condescending attitude towards local administration officials, prompting them to protest.

In a message posted on his Facebook page, ML Panadda said he had heard of a local administrative chairman who spent public money on a lavish lifestyle.

"I was told the provincial administration chief on a recent flight drank wine that costs 100,000 baht a bottle but at the same time asked for shrimp paste, chilli paste and fish sauce on board, making life difficult for the air crew," ML Panadda wrote.

Following a black-clad protest by provincial administration organisations, the PM's Office chief apologised and said he didn't mean to insult all local administrators. He said he made his remarks in support of the sufficiency economy philosophy and wanted to carry on working happily with everyone.

While ML Panadda might have meant well in not wanting public officials to squander taxpayers' money for their own ends, his message does raise the question of how different groups of people will be ranked in the hierarchy of the new conservatism.

If local administrators go around eating shrimp paste and fish sauce, does that mean they do not belong in first class? Who does then?

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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