Nepotism is the name of the game
The military regime's biggest threats are not red bowls from former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra or ex-Pheu Thai MP Watana Muangsook and his campaign to reject the draft charter, but its own hypocrisy and indulgence in power.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for one has wasted no opportunities in lambasting politicians, especially members of the ousted Yingluck Shinawatra government, for being ill-advised and self-serving.
His Friday televised briefings to the nation are often laced with complaints about nepotism and corrupt behaviour among people's representatives which he said had plunged the country into a deep crisis and left him no choice but to step in with the coup.
Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.
But then a memo marked "confidential" surfaced online over the Songkran holidays. It shows approval by defence permanent secretary Preecha Chan-o-cha for his own son to be appointed as an acting sub-lieutenant and serve in the army's civil affairs directorate.
Gen Preecha is Gen Prayut's younger brother. The army's new recruit, employed through a special process of direct, father-to-son appointment without having to go through qualifying exams and other procedures, is the PM's own nephew. It is scandalous enough for Gen Preecha to have admitted that the confidential document is a genuine one, and that he appointed his son to a post in the army without going through due process. But it's his rationale for doing so that could blow people's minds.
According to news reports, Gen Preecha told the media: "My son has a bachelor's degree so he needs a job. Since there was a vacancy, I let him in. Many people in the army also do this. It's not just my son."
In four short sentences, Gen Preecha did the equivalent of giving a hard slap in the face of people who would still like to cling to the belief that meritocracy and a fair chance at employment for all still exist, no matter how small they may be.
In four short sentences, Gen Preecha not only divulged that the army is run like his family business but also that nepotism is the name of the game there. It is widespread, as in "many people in the army also do this", and it seems to be well-established.
As if to be safe, Gen Preecha also mentioned that Gen Prayut was informed of the issue and did not object. If fair-minded citizens had sustained any wounds from Gen Preecha's admission, the words from Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon who also serves as defence minister would be like sharp-edged salt rubbed ruthlessly into them.
In defending the recruitment, Gen Prawit said: "It's an ordinary thing. It is no big deal." Gen Prawit insisted that it's within his authority as defence minister to recruit officers through the special process.
He said he assigned Gen Preecha to exercise the authority on his behalf and the recruitment of his son was done in accordance with the army's regulations. Despite the attempts to justify the appointment, it's still hard to believe that Gen Preecha or the entire army could not find any appropriate candidates to fill the civil affairs staff position but Gen Preecha's own son.
Since a complaint has been filed against the case, it will be up to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to decide whether Gen Preecha has violated an administrative affairs procedure in appointing his son to a position under his authority.
For now, however, the bottom line remains that the case smacks of nepotism and will be seen as a disgrace to the military regime that has been preaching reform as it cast the blame entirely on politicians for failing to observe good governance.
"Self-serving" may take on a new meaning if Gen Prayut uses it to criticise anyone else next time.
More importantly, the regime's dream of setting up a military state through mechanisms to be enshrined by the draft charter requires a harsher clampdown on dissent and criticism now.
That is why people have been prosecuted for distributing harmless red bowls and why Mr Watana has been summonsed again and again for displaying public defiance against the junta and its draft charter.
As allegations of hypocrisy are set to rock the regime's claim to righteousness, its increasingly heavy-handed suppression of people who are not among its hard-core believers to pave the way for the new charter and "authoritarian democracy" will put it in a more isolated position. The "roadmap to peace" could hide more twists and turns than some people may have thought.
Columnist for the Bangkok Post
Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.