No way forward in a frozen state
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No way forward in a frozen state

Like Princess Elsa in the animated film Frozen, one could almost imagine Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha singing "Let it go" as he unleashed a proposal to deep-freeze the country in a state of transition for five years.

Should the plan fail, there is still the back-up plan of a strategy committee to keep Thailand under the military regime's control for another 20 years. For the first five years, that strategy panel would be chaired by Gen Prayut himself.

It should be clear now that the military intends to stay a long time. The question, however, is whether the soldiers will be up to the task.

After two years in power, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is presiding over a deeply cracked society that keeps on fragmenting.

The military government may wield considerable power legally but in reality it is standing on feet of clay. With no legitimacy to count on, the regime risks disenfranchising people in every decision it has made, or refuses to make.

The country has suffered a certain degree of isolation from the international community and resistance internally since the May 22, 2014 coup. It is difficult to imagine how the regime might survive increased pressure should it go ahead with its plans to make the country more insulated as it digs itself deeper into an entrenched, military-exclusive position.

The government's proposal that the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) put a clause in the draft charter that allows the NCPO to maintain peace and order after the general election and during the "transition" to a new government will serve its long-stay purpose, but it does put the CDC in an awkward position. It is no surprise that CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan rejected the proposition almost right away.

The draft charter, designed to jerk Thai politics back to the balance-of-power, coalition-government era and put the executive branch under the supervision of independent organisations, has already been heavily criticised. If the CDC is seen as bowing to the government and allows the NCPO to stay on in power, the chances of its draft charter being approved in the referendum will be slim.

Who will be to blame if that occurs? The CDC of course. But now that the CDC refuses to incorporate the government's demand for the NCPO to prolong its power after the election, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam says the drafters will be held responsible should another political crisis occur.

It's true the CDC owes its existence to the NCPO. But for the regime to use the drafters to advance its agenda as well as holding them accountable for a future crisis does not appear very fair to them or to people who disagree with the regime's proposal.

The uncomfortable tango between the government and CDC makes it seem the regime may get its five-year transition period at the expense of alienating some of its drafters and supporters who do not want to see its power extended.

Besides, the government is making new enemies every day with its policy decisions. There is the controversial Phu Kradueng National Park cable car project which the government suddenly brought back to life after it had been shelved for many years.

Gen Prayut last week also instructed agencies to review the pros and cons of the Mae Wong dam project in Nakhon Sawan, which has been planned for decades but never got off the ground due to fierce public resistance.

The PM insisted there has been no conclusion yet on the project but mentioned the dam construction may be worthwhile if it could provide more water for agricultural land facing drought.

As the military regime pursues these environmentally harmful projects, including the much-criticised 14-billion-baht plan to build a 14-km promenade and bike lanes along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, it has alienated environmentalists and other groups from its support base. If it goes ahead with them, these people will certainly come out to protest. Will the military be able to cope?

Also, how long can the government stall on appointing the new supreme patriarch? Five years? That sounds like too long a wait for Buddhist monks who are already protesting against the delay.

The government has no way out of this dilemma without hurting itself one way or another. If it wants to keep the country frozen for five years, it should be prepared to handle a possibly chaotic situation that may result from the nomination problem.

Like Princess Elsa, Gen Prayut might throw up his arms and say the cold never bothered him anyway.

But should we be bothered?

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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