A roadmap with many twists, turns

A roadmap with many twists, turns

The military regime is a virtuoso, no? Some of its political moves are simply stunning, so incredible that people are left dumbstruck by the effect.

Take this example. Most people thought there was a coup on May 22 two years ago but coup leader Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha -- now prime minister and head of the coup's administrative body the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) -- said they were wrong. There was no coup.

"I did not topple the [then] prime minister,'' is what PM Gen Prayut said on Sunday. "There was no PM at that time. There was no one with administrative power. The country had fallen. That was why I came in.''

Atiya Achakulwisut is contributing editor, Bangkok Post.

So an empty seat was found, and Gen Prayut took it over to save the place from disintegrating. Even coming from a regime that conjured up such cosy-sounding terms as "attitude adjustment sessions" for arbitrary detention and "an invitation to a meeting" for a summons, the logic is still astounding.

The military regime is not just rewriting history. It's making up alternative realities both for itself and society that are based on its own views of the world with no regard for what is going on in real life.

Amazing, no?

No one can fault the junta for its extreme flexibility either. Its often-cited roadmap to democracy has been extended from a three-phase plan taking about one-and-a-half years right after the stumbling upon sovereign power in 2014, to a 6-4-6-4 formula involving the drafting of a constitution and public referendum in 2015 which extends the countdown to a general election by 20 more months.

Now, the roadmap to democracy appears to be even more winding, with five years of direct military supervision and another 20 years of central planning by none other than Gen Prayut himself coming into play.

The changeability must have blindsided many people. One must be particularly bold-faced to have gone from a timeline of 20 months to democracy to 20 years without one. It is no normal feat by the junta, no?

On being decisive and authoritative, taking its power seriously and showing no hesitation to exert it to the fullest extent, the military regime has not fared any better.

By words and deeds, the government is showing zero tolerance to its critics. It invoked the powerful Section 44 to arrest eight online users for suspected violations of the Computer Crime Act.

Some of the suspects were accused of being involved in activities that present a threat to national security for what appeared to be caricatures of Gen Prayut.

That is hard-hitting, no?

The suppression may have worked in slowing down mockeries of the government and the PM, which must have bugged the authorities to no end, only to have them replaced with real protests against freedom of expression, even if still symbolic in nature.

As the military regime clamps down on dissenting opinions more heavily, the resistance becomes more subversive, more creative and more dispersed, in what will eventually boil down to a test of will.

A lawyer for an anti-coup activist said on Facebook he is sometimes puzzled about dealing with security-related cases that under this regime involve "eating sandwiches, eating McDonald's, giving a three-finger salute, reading books, boarding a train, with the latest case having to do with attaching Post-it notes in public''.

As the military regime expands its definition of what constitutes national security in its effort to clamp down on its critics, haphazard accusations may crop up. Stranger cases can occur, no? And public bitterness may soon follow. As a friend of one of the arrested netizens noted on social media: "Until it happens to you, you don't know how it feels.''

As the government came up with new rules to curb free discussions of the draft charter, the referendum is straying away from what the highest law will entail and instead taking on a new meaning as a vote between what the NCPO stands for and alternatives albeit unknown.

Since the military regime apparently wants the draft charter to be approved, it has gone the extra mile to try to muffle its critics. Those acts of oppression unfortunately end up becoming what some members of the public see as what the regime has to offer in its design of the future.

A climate of fear is definitely a prerequisite for a roadmap to militarisation. The charter referendum will be the next crucial step. The regime seems to have done well in maintaining strict control of the country, no?

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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