All roads lead to entrenched military rule

All roads lead to entrenched military rule

Whether the new elections are held in August 2016, 2017 or 2020, the polls are losing their game-changing power as the military regime turns all roads to its advantage.

The Thaksin-Shinawatra camp must have seen how the powers-that-be have now strengthened their position to extend way into the future.

That would explain why both former PM Thaksin, his younger sister, former PM Yingluck, his son Panthongtae and his daughter Pinthongta, are suddenly actively updating their Facebook and Instagram accounts after a long hiatus.

It looks like that is all the Shinawatras can do for now — maintain their presence and keep themselves alive in the public memory. Why is the election, the most potent weapon on the Thaksin side, losing power?

It's because Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha must have spent years reviewing the failures of past coups to plot how to make his own a success, as he has said earlier.

It's obvious the former army chief is acting with ulterior motives alongside every move implemented in the roadmap.

There is the draft charter versus a general election. People who stand in opposition to the coup camp have called for a referendum to be held on the draft constitution. Now they have found themselves in a quandary.

Reject the draft charter, which is seen as an attempt to enshrine a "guided democracy" doctrine, and they will probably not see a new poll in two years — even longer if the drafting process keeps on going.

Meanwhile if they approve it, with the hope that the highest law can still be amended one day, the results will still be the same.

There may be a general election but there will be no meaningful changes in government politics or public policy.

Even if the Pheu Thai Party wins the next general elections and forms a government, it will be hamstrung by the reform and reconciliation agenda imposed by the charter and the so-called national reform steering assembly that will be formed once the charter is in place.

And don't forget that under the draft charter, the reform steering assembly has the authority to propose new bills to the parliament on issues it sees fit.

It can also initiate a referendum if the government rejects its reform proposals.

Therefore, the legal and organisation structures will ensure the next government has little room to manoeuvre, except to follow the agenda set in place by the military regime and its traditionalist supporters.

Under these conditions, the new elections can be held in August, if the draft charter is approved, in two years, or whenever — it does not matter.

Polls will become more of a ceremony than anything else.

People will feel they are exercising their freedom to choose. Politicians will be able to claim legitimacy if they win.

But the government will have to act in line with a limited role that the military regime is now carving out for it.

I can see no way out for people who don't want to live under authoritarian rule.

Whichever way it goes, there is no escaping the possibility that the country will come under guided democracy for the next several years.

The scenario makes the question of whether PM Gen Prayut will stay on in power for another two years irrelevant.

The premier has made all the possibilities a winning option for him.

If the charter is approved, he gets the kind of politics he envisioned for the country, whether people like it or not.

If the charter is rejected, he gets to stay on automatically and legitimately.

Besides all this, a new question may be added to the charter referendum: whether people want to see reforms implemented before the elections.

If the majority say yes, Gen Prayut can easily use it to justify extending his tenure.

If people say no, well, they will get an election while Gen Prayut gets to see his guided democracy doctrine established throughout the next several years.

For PM Gen Prayut and the military regime, it looks increasingly like a win-win-and-win situation.

During the first reconciliation forum held by the army in late April, both the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties said they would rather see the poll postponed than to have the charter enforced in its current form.

It looks like Thaksin and his family will have all the time in the world to post updates on social media.

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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