Public anger grows in aftermath of mall shooting
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Public anger grows in aftermath of mall shooting

special report: Military structure, government's response to tragedy fuel scorn

The mass shooting spree in Nakhon Ratchasima has fuelled public disappointment and anger at the role of the army and the government in their handling of the situation. The negative public sentiment is likely to be a result of the unprecedented level of violence among other factors.

Prakasit Sangkra, a lawyer, said the backlash could be a result of the army's failure to perform its duty to protect people in an incident which killed 30 and injured 58.

"The army should have ensured rigorous security measures to prevent an insider [the gunman] from entering the camp, seizing weapons from the armoury, and going on a rampage. I think a tight security system would thwart criminals from both inside and outside," he said.

Another source, who asked not to be named, said her anger stemmed from a sense of "hopelessness" at the army and government's response.

"At first, I felt sad at the huge loss of life and then enraged at our leaders' responses. I might be too pessimistic, but I don't believe in the army chief's vow to bring transparency to the barracks because there is no reason why those in power will make sacrifices for their subordinates.

Military culture

Phichai Ratnatilaka Na Bhuket, a political scientist at the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida), said the incident revealed the abuse of power that takes place in the army.

"Under authoritarian rule, unethical superiors can take advantage and bully those below them. When they [subordinates] can't rely on mechanisms to seek justice, they have no choice but to use violence, as the gunman did," he told the Bangkok Post.

He said the public had directed their anger and dissatisfaction at the government because it evolved from the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

"Many politicians in the government are part of a military culture entrenched in a rigid hierarchy. Accordingly, it is difficult for them to deny criticism levelled at them. How can Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who also oversees the Defence Ministry let this happen?"

Meanwhile, Surachart Bamrungsuk, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University said that besides dissatisfaction over the fact that war weapons were stolen from a military camp with relative ease, the reactions and responses of the prime minister, who is also the defence minister, and the army chief had been seen as insensitive.

In other countries, there would be an official announcement of condolences or even some resignations.

However, those who are showing strong dissatisfaction with the government are the very people who have already criticised the government on many issues, Mr Surachart said.

"It's the accumulation of people's feelings towards the government. The people think the government is not capable of handling problems, including the economy. This is just yet another confirmation," he said.

"The army chief will be able to prove that what he said is true when actions are already taken," he said, adding that he could have stopped problematic projects such as the property deal believed to be the shooter's motive.

Many factors

On the other hand, Panitan Wat­- tanayagorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University and chairman of the security advisory committee for Prime Minister Prayut, said public sentiment had intensified due to the fact that the country has never experienced such a high level of violence and casualties.

"Moreover, the incident has been magnified by intense media coverage from professionals and individuals. All of these came as a shock to us," he said.

Mr Panitan said the perpetrator's military background and expertise had also raised questions as to why the army and security agencies could let it happen.

"However, the incident involved a personal conflict. Why don't other soldiers behave like this [gunman]? We have to consider many factors. At the fundamental level, how did he grow up? At the push level, was he taught to use violence or non-violence? At the pull level, what did he feel before he pulled the trigger?" he said.

With calls to reform the army, the political scientist made a personal comment, saying that it should improve the collection of weapons and "loosen the hierarchy".

"If such an incident happens again in one or two months, we might have to address the structure of the army. However, if it doesn't, reform of the army may not be seen as being as urgent as they think," he said.

Defence spokesperson Lt Gen Kongcheap Tantrawanit said the incident resulted from a personal conflict and not because of the conventional hierarchical structure in the army.

"It has never happened before. Accusing the army of abusing power does not make sense because this is the way military culture is. Soldiers serving in the army come from the general population. We belong to the public and work towards their interests. If there is unfair treatment, soldiers can file complaints via many channels," he said.

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