Thailand's interim charter will show where the country is headed

Thailand's interim charter will show where the country is headed

In a bid to prevent history from repeating, an interim charter will likely incorporate a provision that empowers the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to have control over an interim government, especially when it comes to issues that affect national security.

Providing that there are no "hiccups", an interim charter is expected to be formally announced this week. The promulgation of the charter will bring the country to the second stage of the NCPO's roadmap to democracy, which means an interim government will be installed. But the question is whether the military will hand over all of its powers to the interim government. If not, the NCPO will have to provide good reasons why it needs to maintain some power.

Insight can be gleaned from the 2006 coup. On that occasion, coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin is said to have lost power before he had the chance to complete the task he aimed to achieve, which was to eradicate the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra and his family. This stemmed from the former Army chief handing over his power to General Surayud Chulanont by appointing him as premier of the military-installed government. Sonthi himself headed the Council of National Security (CNS).

Critics say Sonthi's loss of control over the military-installed government was exacerbated by legal obstacles. The interim charter imposed by Sonthi stipulated that "in any situation deemed appropriate, the CNS chief or PM may seek a joint meeting of the CNS and the Cabinet to solve issues related to peace keeping and national security or hold consultative meetings on other issues".

Legal experts say that the way this provision translated meant that the CNS did not have control over the interim government. As a result, Sonthi was unable to complete his mission and was attacked for his failure to uproot Thaksin's influence from Thailand.

To prevent such legal loopholes this time, the NCPO is likely to opt for some provisions copied from the 1991 interim charter that empowered the National Peace Keeping Council led by General Sunthorn Kongsompong to have powers equal to or greater than his coup-installed government.

Drafting a charter is not that complicated a task. What is difficult is how to win public acceptance in order to impose the law without resistance.

So far, NCPO chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has faced relatively little opposition domestically because the country had been tilting dangerously close to anarchy. The public has willingly accepted orders from the NCPO in the belief that they are restoring peace and order.

The coup has been perceived very differently overseas. The NCPO has come under fire from the United States, which has blocked US$4.7 million in security-related aid to Thailand as a result of its disapproval of undemocratic power seizure. The superpower also froze US$3.5 million in aid a day after the May 22 coup. The US last month moved to downgrade Thailand's ranking to the lowest level in its annual human-trafficking report, which highlights maltreatment of migrant workers. Thai food export companies have been hit by the action. European Union ministers have also halted all official visits to Thailand and suspended the signing of a partnership and co-operation accord. The next protest by the US could be moving next year's Cobra Gold - one of the largest US military exercises - from Thailand.

Moving on to the second stage of the road map to democracy will help reduce the threat of further sanctions from the international community as it helps to prove that the NCPO is sincere about bringing back democratic rule.

An interim charter is significant because it clearly sets out the country's power structure from the time the charter becomes effective until an election is held and an elected government is formed, the third and final stage of the roadmap. The interim charter will help to steer the course where Thailand is headed in terms of administration and reform.

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