12 August 2014

“Amnesty shall be granted to NCPO and NCPO leaders...”

Democracy Monument

In June, National Council for Peace and Order leader Prayut Chan-o-cha announced his three-step pathway to a new election following this year’s coup. Now it seems that the country has entered the second phase of Prayut’s plan, as anti-coup protests have fizzled out and the NCPO has begun establishing an interim government.

The prospect of military detention and court martial has successfully deterred any anti-coup activity, and even symbolic protests have now stopped. Instead of promoting reconciliation, police encouraged people to submit photographs of protesters, for a ฿500 reward. After the last protest, on 8th June, the deputy police chief claimed that the protesters “are causing damage to our country... They are creating a bad image for the foreigners.”

A propaganda campaign to ‘bring back happiness” has been launched by the military, with free entertainment being provided in partnership with the private sector. Thousands of free tickets to see the patriotic film The Legend Of King Naresuan V (ตำนานสมเด็จพระนเรศวรมหาราช ภาค ๕ ยุทธหัตถี) were distributed on 15th June. (Cinemas were required to install CCTV cameras to record and identify any patrons who left the screenings early.) Rights-holder RS was persuaded to allow World Cup football matches to be broadcast on the army’s terrestrial television channels 5 and 7. Prayut has issued a list of twelve values that children should uphold; incredibly, one of these values is: “Correct understanding of democracy”.

In another PR exercise, army spokesman Weerachon Sukhonthapatiphak gave a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Bangkok on 11th June, euphemistically describing the military takeover as an “intervention” rather than a coup. He insisted that people were “invited”, rather than detained, by the military; implausibly, he claimed that former PM Yingluck “was free to go back home on the same day.” After publisher Thanapol Eawsakul’s detention, a colonel explained that they would “interrogate him and re-adjust his attitude”, in contrast to the rosy picture painted by Weerachon. Some detainees have even accused the army of torture.

To demonstrate its commitment to the country’s administration, the NCPO has already allocated billions of baht to pay for new policies and infrastructure projects. The first of these was a pledge to reimburse the farmers who had not been paid following Yingluck Shinawatra’s rice subsidy scheme. The NCPO also announced transportation megaprojects, including two high-speed train lines. When Yingluck proposed a similar plan, with almost exactly the same budget, it was vetoed by the Constitutional Court, which ruled that high-speed rail was not necessary in Thailand. Yet the NCPO’s almost identical proposal has attracted no such criticism.

Martial law also precludes any debate on the NCPO’s interim constitution, which was published on 22nd July. The constitution includes an amnesty for the coup leaders, as did the 2007 charter: “Amnesty shall be granted to NCPO and NCPO leaders, as well as individuals who take part in or conduct actions related to taking control over state administration” (article 48). When Yingluck proposed a political amnesty last year, she was criticised by all sides, triggering the People’s Democratic Reform Council protest, though there has been no criticism of the military’s amnesty. The constitution also states: “NCPO Announcements and Orders... shall be all deemed lawful, constitutional and final” (article 44), effectively giving the junta absolute power.

The National Legislative Assembly, appointed by the NCPO, held its first session on 7th August. 105 of its 200 members are serving or retired military officers. Next week, the NLA will vote for a prime minister, and Prayut is widely expected to be chosen.

The Bangkok Post’s military reporter, Wassana Nanuam, is known for her high-placed sources, though maintaining this access to top-level military personnel also risks compromising her objectivity. She wrote an especially obsequious article on 19th June, almost begging Prayut to become PM: “Confidence in Gen. Prayut is overwhelming. Many Thais think we are in dire need of a strong, decisive leader... In their view, Gen Prayut is a hero who has freed the country from its troubles.” As is the case with the lèse-majesté law, absolute censorship means that only hagiography is permitted.