Bleak prospects on 7th coup anniversary

Bleak prospects on 7th coup anniversary

Another six years of Prayut likely if all goes according to plan

Commanders of the armed forces, led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha (centre), address the nation following the military coup on May 22, 2014.
Commanders of the armed forces, led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha (centre), address the nation following the military coup on May 22, 2014.

At 4.30pm on May 22 seven years ago, Thailand saw its 13th successful military coup.

The putsch, silent and bloodless, was staged not with tanks on streets, but in a meeting room full of ministers, to the relief of exhausted protesters who had long urged then army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha to “take up the torch”.

It followed several months of protracted street protests aimed at ousting then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Gen Prayut, pledging to “return happiness to the people”, said an election would be held as soon as conditions stabilised. That ended up taking five years.

During that time, two draft constitutions were written and several laws either amended or passed by the National Legislative Assembly handpicked by him.

Not all of the laws were bad ideas. Among the better ones are the inheritance tax law and the land tax law but they have since proved to be ineffectual. The former was so watered-down that it led to collections of only a few million baht each year. The latter has yet to take effect.

A key element of the new constitution was that 250 senators handpicked by Gen Prayut will be able to vote alongside MPs for a prime minister.

A general election was finally held after several delays in March 2019.

While Pheu Thai, with a firm stand of not supporting Gen Prayut as PM, had the most votes, it still had to rely on votes from smaller parties to form a government.

With the support of 250 senators, Gen Prayut was viewed as a safer choice by smaller parties, in particular the Democrats and Bhumjaithai.

Wasted years

Yingluck wrote a message on Facebook on Saturday to mark the 7th anniversary, asking what the country and its people had lost over the years.

She cited competitiveness, jobs, quality of life, skill development and freedom.

“Seven years after the coup has been a period when the country and Thai people lost development opportunities,” the exiled former premier wrote. “They have been years when the people’s voice means nothing … when people are hopelessly waiting for a new constitution.

“Has Gen Prayut fulfilled his promise of returning happiness to the people? If not, the coup seven years ago, which promised reform before an election, is just an excuse.”

Sudarat Keyuraphan, leader of the Thai Srang Thai Party and former chief strategist of Pheu Thai, also wrote on Facebook that she felt sorry for the lost opportunities of Thais.

“In seven years in office, Prayut has spent 20.8 trillion baht in state budgets and borrowed 4.9 trillion baht, sending public debt through the roof at a record 14 trillion, or 89.3% of GDP,” she wrote.

She added that spending without a strategy only further impoverished Thais. “The administration flops in every dimension. I feel sorry for the lost opportunities of Thais.”

What the future brings

Barring another coup, which is unlikely, the next election will be held in 2023. Gen Prayut is widely expected to secure an even bigger win. He will still have the support of 250 senators since their term ends a year later than that of the current MPs.

For seven years, the patronage system in the provinces has been further entrenched through increased centralisation by the Interior Ministry and bureaucracy. 

Trillions of baht in handouts by the Prayut government have also restored local politics to the status quo of a decade ago, when influential local canvassers played a key role in elections and people become increasingly reliant on government support to survive.

Unless the constitution is changed to prevent senators from voting on a PM before the next election, Gen Prayut will likely be the prime minister for another six years, for a total of 13 years, beating Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, the longest-serving PM to date with 9½ years in office.

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