The big issue: Frogs in a pot

The big issue: Frogs in a pot

The head of the Constitution Drafting Committee suddenly realised he had forgotten something. At a mere 130 pages, 61,000 words, 315 sections, the charter really needed some meat on its bones.

What it needed, CDC chief Borwornsak Uwanno realised last week, is a defining section that will make it different from all the other constitutions of the past 83 years (average life span 4.15 years). So here is what could go to a referendum next year.

After an election and the formation of a government and the first meeting of parliament, there will be a Crisis Committee. It will include the chiefs of police, the army, the navy, the air force. When these gentlemen (no ladies need apply) feel there’s a political emergency of some kind going on, or decide the government isn’t functioning, or declare there’s a problem with national administration, they will step in. The government can’t stop them.

If Mr Borwornsak thought that imitating Steve Jobs with a “one more thing” moment would sail through, he was mistaken. The head of the National Reform Council’s political reform panel is against it. Mr Suthep’s People’s Democratic Reform Committee “foundation” is against it. Yellow shirt advocate Thaworn Senneam called it the power to stage a coup without tanks; red shirt advocate Nattawut Saikuar called it a licence for the military to simply stay in power. There was more to this than immediately met the eye. The Appeal Court slapped the military and its ruling National Council for Peace and Order across the face last week. It accepted a lawsuit by the pesky and tiny Resistant Citizen anti-coup group that charges the NCPO with illegally usurping power while the former, 2007 constitution was in effect with a clause that specifically forbade coups.

It’s the sort of charge that consumes constitutional lawyers and scholars. The military regime, including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha himself, have a few more days to answer the charges, after which the Appeal Court will proceed. It is an unprecedented challenge to the junta’s authority. Unlikely to actually lose the case, it already has lost face. If only the constitution didn’t have a section making a coup illegal. If only it had a section making it legal. It was, as the Greeks put it, Mr Borwornsak’s “Voila” moment.

The new police chief chosen on Friday, Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, trained with military leaders of the regime and, to put it prissily, prefers to be “tough on political dissent”, those troublesome people who abuse freedom of speech and make trouble for his leaders.

The military added yet another layer of self-protection last week. The generals felt confident enough to announce through the CDC’s military-appointed spokesman Gen Lertrat Ratanavanich that the first senate will consist of 77 elected members and 123 chosen, not by a representative committee of Thai citizens, but by Gen Prime Minister Prayut and his military government. Gen Lertrat said “it makes sense” that some of those 123 military-picked senators will come directly from the government itself.

The law requiring government permission to protest took legal effect on Thursday.

And the usual suspects began leaking details of next month’s military reshuffle. The annual battles to replace officers who have reached 60 is slightly more interesting than usual, because the army commander, Gen Udomdej Sitabutr, is one of those retiring from the position where all coups start and some end. There are two candidates, one of whom is Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, whose family name may ring a bell.

Gen Prayut, goaded by the mischievous media, blurted out again that, “Yes, he’s my younger brother, but that ain’t heavy.” And by the standards set by the self-styled Burapha Phayak (Tigers of the East), he’s correct. This is not a military regime, but a Class 14, Prachin Buri province band of brothers. They brag that.

“All of us are loving brothers,” says the big brother of all the brothers, Gen Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, coup expert extraordinaire. The media are practically drooling over a chance to scream “nepotism!” if Gen Preecha gets a good job. Forest, trees. The whole patriotic patriarchy here has sore backs from all the mutual slapping.

Consider. Pyongyang’s Kim Jong-un had to kill his uncle and his defence minister for talking back. The Prachin Buri brothers have fewer disagreements than North Korea. There are no “yes men” in this group, only “yes, sir!” men. There has never been a more homogeneous group at the top of Thailand. By comparison, Plaek, the Kittikachorns and Sarit the First headed regimes of fractious, open-minded liberals.

Anyway, in the week’s greatest anti-climax, the usual sources said Gen Preecha will get the army’s second-highest post, while Gen Thirachai Nakwanich steps into the top slot. You’ll never guess which class he graduated with. Or maybe you will.

And now, the recipe of the day.

To boil a frog, put it in a pot with warm water. Put the pot on the stove, turn on the gas burner very low. Give it some delicious flies to eat to divert its attention further as the water warms, slowly getting hotter and hotter until.

Alan Dawson

Online Reporter / Sub-Editor

A Canadian by birth. Former Saigon's UPI bureau chief. Drafted into the American Armed Forces. He has survived eleven wars and innumerable coups. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge.

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